Guard against Zika as you travel for spring break

woman with insect repellentAs spring break approaches and people prepare to travel, doctors and other healthcare professionals remind them Zika is still a threat.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Wear appropriate insect repellent.
  • Follow instructions for reapplication.
  • Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts.

Zika's long-lasting effects can be incredibly serious.

“Zika is a relatively mild illness in adults. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash and red eyes,” said Franklyn Christensen, MD, Maternal Fetal Medicine physician at Carle.

He is a member of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Zika task force.

“The biggest Zika threat is for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant,” he said. “If they have the Zika virus in their bodies, it can cause microcephaly—a severe birth defect in newborn babies—among other problems.”

Dr. Christensen added, “People get Zika two ways: Through a mosquito bite from a certain mosquito native to Latin America and through sexual contact with someone who is infected with the virus.”

The mosquito species (Aedes aegypti) that spreads Zika is in Florida and Texas, as well as the Caribbean and other areas.

The biggest threat of Zika spreading in Illinois is from people travelling to Florida, Texas or Latin America, acquiring the Zika virus there, coming home and spreading the virus to others through sexual contact.

Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant need to be careful if they are traveling to areas with Zika—or avoid traveling to those regions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says if a person hasn’t gotten sick 12 days after returning, it is safe to try and get pregnant. But the Zika virus can stay in the body, even if people don’t get sick,” Dr. Christensen said.

“To be extra safe, a couple should wait two to six months. Women should talk with their doctor about Zika and family planning.”