The Zika Dilemma: Advice for Travelers
Travelers planning a tropical getaway may be wondering whether to change their plans because of Zika virus outbreaks in many warm weather destinations. You don’t have to immediately cancel your trip unless a member of your group is among those with the highest risk of severe complications, says Mia Taormina, DO, FACOI, an osteopathic infectious disease and travel medicine specialist with DuPage Medical Group.
Making an informed decision can be tough when there’s a limited amount of research available and we’re bombarded with images of infants facing lifelong health consequences, Dr. Taormina notes.
“In my travel medicine practice, I partner with patients to help them evaluate their personal risk in situations like this. When there’s no obvious reason to postpone travel, I offer strategies to lower their risk of infection while enjoying the trip,” Dr. Taormina explains. “For some people, the benefits of a warm weather vacation that reconnects them with family or friends may outweigh the potential hazard and that’s a completely valid consideration.”
Focusing on preventive care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, consider how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health. They also partner with their patients to help them get healthy and stay well.
High Risk—Cancel Plans
- Pregnant women
- Women (and their partners) who are attempting to become pregnant
Medium Risk—Consider Postponing
- Anyone with a compromised immune system or chronic disease that makes them more susceptible to severe infection
- The very young and the elderly
For Everyone Else
It’s important to do what you can to avoid being bitten by the Aedes mosquito, which carries the Zika virus. Fortunately, Aedes mosquitos are poor fliers and only tend to bite during the day, according to Dr. Taormina, who recommends scheduling activities around mosquitos’ feeding hours.
Some activities to help prevent mosquitos bites include:
- Consider deep water activities, such as sailing or snorkeling, or an air-conditioned indoor cooking class, to limit contact with mosquitos.
- Hike and bike at dawn and dusk to avoid peak mosquito activity.
- Steer clear of wilderness and brush whenever possible and cover up when you’re outside—long sleeves and pants double as sun protection.
- Liberally apply insect repellents—particularly those containing DEET—to enhance protection.
Your Reproductive Future
Only 20% of people infected with the Zika virus experience symptoms, which tend to be mild. But consequences for an unborn child can be severe. After travel to a Zika region, Dr. Taormina advises her patients to pause before attempting to conceive. That advice holds true with men as well, since the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted from an infected male to his partner.
Bottom line: If a trip to a Zika hot spot is part of your plans, don’t attempt to conceive until you and your partner have consulted your physician, even if you exhibit no signs or symptoms of the virus.