In November 2016, the World Health Organization declared that the Zika virus is no longer an international public health emergency. But that doesn't mean mosquitoes are out of the woods on this one. The Zika virus, now classified among other mosquito-born maladies such as malaria and yellow fever, is officially a longer-term problem.
Spread primarily through the bite of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes—species that haven't been found in Michigan but are common in tropical areas, including some regions of the United States—the Zika virus' 69 confirmed cases in Michigan (to date) are all travel related.
But don't worry. Spring break and any other winter escapes to sandy beaches are far from ruined.
If you're gearing up to travel to warmer climates with active Zika transmission, here's what you need to know to pack and plan for your trip, stay protected during travel, and remain healthy upon returning home.
Know what you're facing.
This Zika virus as an illness is typically mild. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes), lasting for several days to a week after the first bite. Infection during pregnancy, however, is linked to miscarriage and serious birth defects, including microcephaly.
Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellents.
- Stay and sleep in places with air conditioning, or use window and door screens.
- If your plans include travel to remote area, bring a permethrin-treated bed net to use while sleeping.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes it possible to receive travel updates about the Zika virus on the go. All you have to do is text PLAN to 855.255.5606.
Know when you shouldn't travel. Given the birth defects linked with the Zika virus, the CDC recommends that pregnant women shouldn't travel to areas with active Zika transmission. With business trips and family emergencies, however, travel is sometimes inevitable. If you're pregnant and must travel, take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
Take individual responsibility.
Zika danger doesn't end with your trip. It's important to remain healthy after traveling. As such, there are specific actions individuals must take, based on demographics.
- For women who aren't pregnant when traveling to areas with active Zika transmission, it's recommended they prevent pregnancy for at least eight weeks from symptom onset (if ill) or last possible exposure (if illness doesn't develop).
- For men who return from travel: While the Zika virus is transmitted primarily through infected mosquitos, the virus can also be transmitted sexually. Use condoms and avoid conception for at least six months, regardless of whether you develop an illness consistent with the Zika virus.
- Men who have been in areas of active Zika transmission and have a pregnant partner: Use condoms, or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.