The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is alerting the public of the potential to contract Zika virus while traveling abroad. Although sexual transmission of Zika virus infection is possible, mosquito bites remain the primary way that Zika virus is transmitted. Because there currently is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus, the best way to avoid Zika virus infection is to prevent mosquito bites. While illness is usually mild, and severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, Zika virus infection in pregnant women can cause severe birth defects of the brain, including microcephaly. Pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika virus.
The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes) lasting from several days to a week. If you are experiencing Zika virus symptoms and have traveled to/lived in an area with Zika within the past 2 weeks, contact your healthcare provider immediately so you can be tested for Zika virus. Tell your healthcare provider when and where you traveled.
Kansas physicians and laboratories should be aware of the diagnostic testing guidance for Zika virus. Additional guidance for healthcare providers is available here. Call the Kansas Department of Health and Environment at 1-877-427-7317 to report persons with suspected Zika virus infection or to request Zika virus testing. Zika virus testing is now available at the state laboratory and commercial laboratories.
Zika Virus in Pregnancy
Zika virus infection can cause microcephaly (meaning small head and brain) and other severe brain defects in babies of mothers who are infected with Zika virus while pregnant. This means that a woman who is infected with Zika during pregnancy has an increased risk of having a baby with these health problems. Therefore, pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika virus.
Men with a pregnant sex partner who have traveled to or lived in an area of active Zika virus transmission should consistently and correctly use condoms during sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) or abstain from sexual activity for the duration of the pregnancy to avoid giving the virus to the mother and baby.
If you are pregnant and had exposure to Zika virus in the last 2-12 weeks either from travel to a place with ongoing Zika virus transmission or unprotected sex with someone who has traveled to or lived in a place with ongoing Zika virus transmission, contact your healthcare provider immediately so you can be tested for Zika virus. Tell your healthcare provider when and where you and/or your sex partner traveled/lived.
There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Until more is known, CDC is recommending when traveling to countries where Zika virus has been reported, travelers should take steps to prevent mosquito bites. All travelers, including pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding, can and should use an EPA-registered insect repellent and use it according to the product label.
Some travelers to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission will become infected while traveling but will not become sick until they return home and they might not have any symptoms. Travelers should use insect repellent for three weeks after travel to prevent mosquito bites and stop the spread of Zika.
Zika virus can be spread by an infected man to his sex partners. Men with a pregnant sex partner who reside in or have traveled to an area of active Zika virus transmission should consistently and correctly use condoms during sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) or abstain from sexual activity for the duration of the pregnancy to avoid giving the virus to the mother and baby. Men and their nonpregnant sex partners may want to consider the following recommendations from the CDC. Women and their partners who are thinking about pregnancy, should talk to their healthcare providers about their travel plans, the risk of Zika virus infection and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
Local residents can protect themselves from Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases (West Nile, Chikungunya, Dengue) by wearing an EPA-registered insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when working or playing outdoors. Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside. Use air conditioning, if you have it. Empty standing water from flower pots, buckets, gutters/downspouts, small pools and pool covers, pet dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths on a regular basis to reduce the number of mosquitoes around the home. Tightly cover water storage containers so that mosquitoes cannot get inside to lay eggs.