Zika – Should it affect your travel plans?

zikaFor the last several weeks, I have been getting alerts and updates in my inbox about the Zika virus. Most of the medical publications are covering it closely, and the news and the information does seem to change on a daily basis. A friend has a trip planned to Puerto Rico, and she asked me if I thought it was ok for her to go. Her plans are to travel with her son, daughter-in-law, daughter and her two grandchildren. Her son is on the fence about more children, and her daughter is of child-bearing age. What should she do? It is a difficult question to answer, because, while I know everyone prefers a definitive answer, the truth is it is a personal decision. We are learning more about Zika every day, so this information may change, but as of today, here are the facts:

  • Zika is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites, but it can be transmitted sexually as well.
  • Zika is now officially in the U.S. There are over a dozen documented cases in Miami, FL, of people contracting the virus through mosquito bites, which means the mosquitos are here. There is a one mile travel ban around downtown Miami. Experts think this is enough of a radius as the mosquito that carries Zika can only fly 150 meters in its lifetime. (As of last month, there were over 1600 cases in the U.S., 15 from sexual transmission, and the rest from people returning from traveling abroad.)
  • Most people who are infected with Zika will have mild symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache — very similar to a typical flu. Symptoms last a few days to a week. Experts believe being infected provides immunity against infection in the future.
  • In rare but more serious cases, Zika may be linked to Guillain-Barre, a nervous system disorder.
  • The biggest risk of all is a woman who is pregnant and becomes infected. She can pass the virus to her fetus, and the sequelae can be tragic. The disease can cause miscarriage and newborns who contract Zika in-utero, can be born with microcephaly, other severe brain defects, vision and hearing problems, and impaired growth.zika microcephaly

So, clearly, if you are pregnant, you should not be traveling to areas where Zika is endemic, and if you partner travels to such an area, you should be using condoms throughout the rest of your pregnancy.

But, what about everyone else?

Right now, chances are if you are healthy adult with no intention of getting pregnant or getting your partner pregnant, you should be fine. Most people who get bitten by a Zika carrying mosquito are fine, and even when they do get sick, symptoms are mild.

If you are a woman of child-bearing age and are thinking of getting pregnant, the CDC recommends waiting at least 8 weeks after symptoms, or without symptoms, waiting at least 8 weeks after you think you may have been exposed.

If you are a man and are planning a pregnancy, the recommendation is to wait 6 months after the start of symptoms or after you think you may have been exposed to attempt conception. The virus lasts longer in semen.

So, what if it were me and my family? I would take the risk for myself, my husband and my kids, who are all healthy enough to fight off a mild virus. If I were a man or a woman even contemplating pregnancy in the next year, I would probably, and very conservatively avoid any travel to the Zika hot spots. But, that is me, and that is more than the experts recommend. For me, the birth defects are just too great to take the risk.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at drkarenlatimer@gmail.com to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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