Zika virus has largely fallen out of international headlines, however the risk remains; particularly to pregnant women and those who might become pregnant. The reported case counts in areas that were ridden with Zika several years ago stands at an average of 10% of reported cases 2017.
Although mild compared to other mosquito-borne illnesses, Zika carries grave complications - including miscarriages, microcephaly, and other consequences – when contracted during pregnancy. Zika remains a threat in areas that had Zika outbreaks in the past several years and have competent vectors of the disease (Anopheles species of mosquitoes).
Threat of Zika in 2018
Signs at airports and other ports of entry cautioning against Zika virus are there for good reason, as disease awareness tends to fall without the sustained media attention that comes with an outbreak. Case counts are much lower now than in previous years, largely due to effective efforts to rid areas of the mosquito vector but also because the local population is now largely immune. You can only get Zika virus once; therefore, residents in areas prone to transmission are unlikely to be reported as new cases. However, any person who has not been exposed remains at risk of contracting the disease.
The threat of Zika virus varies by location. Impoverished areas and those with limited resources to combat the disease over the last few years present the greatest risk. Vector prevalence and novel populations (those not previously exposed) add to the threat.
Zika virus infection remains a risk in the following regions:
- Central and South America
- South Pacific
- South Asia
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Central Africa
- Parts of North America
Compared to other regions, there has been little reporting and data on the disease in Asia and Africa, but the risk in these continents remains. Although the continents of Asia and Africa handled the past crisis to the best of their abilities, the virus is lingering in mosquitoes and the human population, presenting a threat to anyone traveling to these areas without immunity.
Men and women are at equal risk, the threat to a newborn and fetus is most prominent. The disease is typically mild; rash, joint pain, and mild fever are typical symptoms. Because the disease can be transmitted from an infected man to a woman through sexual contact, both sexes should be aware of the potential risk.
When traveling to areas where there is a risk of transmission, be aware of insect bite precautions and take every effort to thwart mosquito exposure.
- Sleeping in air-conditioned rooms with intact screens is helpful as mosquitoes do not like cold environments.
- Keeping fans moving is advised as mosquitoes cannot fly against stronger winds and circulating air.
- Reduce any standing water in pots, puddles, trash, or other objects that collect even a teaspoon of water.
- Use DEET and reapply frequently.
- Treat clothing with permethrin when you can; remember this treatment is not for skin but can be used on clothing, tents, and other barriers.
- Mosquito nets are useful if screens have defects or if you must be outdoors for extended periods.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as is comfortable to help prevent bites.
If you are concerned about possible exposure, be sure to check with your medical provider as soon as you can, especially if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
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