Reports of Zika infections spreading from South America to the Caribbean and then to parts of the southern United States were big news last spring. Now that the furor has died down and the winter weather is here, you might be dreaming of a tropical vacation…and wondering if you should let Zika dictate your travel plans.
In a word: maybe.
While many people who contract Zika show no symptoms, and those who do generally recover fairly quickly, the virus can have serious consequences for people who are pregnant or trying to conceive, or who have partners who are pregnant or trying to conceive. If you fall into one of those groups, it’s probably best to spend your vacation in a Zika-free zone.
Experts estimate that about 25 percent of people who contract Zika develop symptoms, which include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headache; most people usually recover within two to seven days. However, experts agree that Zika causes microcephaly in developing fetuses. This serious birth defect causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. Zika virus also may cause other neurological disorders, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
While the mosquitos that spread Zika are unlikely to survive Nova Scotia’s inhospitable winters, the virus is sexually transmittable, which means that it’s possible to give the virus to a partner long after your vacation is over. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against Zika virus infection.
The bottom line
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that if you are pregnant or trying to conceive – or if you just don’t want to contract a mosquito-borne illness while you’re on vacation – you should stay away from areas with active Zika virus transmission.
How to stay safe
The easiest way to avoid infection is to avoid travelling to countries or areas in the United States where mosquito-borne Zika virus has been reported.
If you cannot avoid travel to this areas, take care to avoid mosquito bites by:
- Covering up – wear long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants in light colours
- Using insect repellent – products that contain DEET are most effective
- Staying away from open areas – sleep under a bed net and make sure that your accommodations have adequate window screens
If you have recently returned from a Zika-prone area:
- men should use condoms with any partner who could become pregnant for at least six months after returning from travel, and should use condoms or avoid intercourse with a pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy
- women should wait at least two months after their return from a Zika affected area before trying to conceive
- women who are pregnant should, for the duration of their pregnancy, avoid sexual intercourse or use condoms with male partners who have recently travelled in areas affected by the current Zika outbreak
If you suspect an infection
If you are worried that you may have been infected with Zika virus during travel an at-risk area, you should contact your health-care provider. Your physician will be familiar with Zika virus testing recommendations and local guidelines, and will help you determine what to do next.