With summer upon us, many people are looking to use that vacation time and get away to tropical and exotic locations. While travel planning can be exhaustive, ensuring that you stay healthy during and after your trip is always a concern. If you are a young adult of child bearing age, the Zika virus is one that you need to know about.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus was first discovered in the mid 1940’s. It is primarily spread through infected Aedes species mosquito bites but can also be sexually transmitted and spread from mother to fetus. It is possible, although not proven, that it can be spread through blood transmission as well.

People infected with Zika may have no symptoms at all, but the most common symptoms include fever, rash, red eyes, headache, sore joints and muscle aches. These symptoms can last for up to a week. Zika can be detected through blood and urine tests.

There are currently no immunizations or medications to prevent or treat the Zika virus. Those who have become infected in the past are believed to be immune to future infections.

Where is Zika present?

The areas where the Zika virus is currently present include much of Africa, Asia, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands. For exact locations and the most up-to-date details on locations, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at https://www.cdc.gov/Zika/geo/index.html.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can contract the Zika virus and it is not a life threatening or severe illness for most people. However, pregnant women who contract the virus are at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects. Babies born to women who were infected may have severe birth defects like microcephaly or Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Women can carry the Zika virus in their bodies for up to two months after contracting the virus. To avoid the pregnancy risks and birth defects, it is recommended that women wait a minimum of two months before trying to conceive after visiting a country with the Zika virus.

Men can pass along the Zika virus through sexual contact up to six months after being exposed. Since the virus doesn’t always present symptoms, it is important to avoid conception for at least six months after traveling to an at-risk location.

How to protect yourself

If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, or hoping to conceive soon, it is recommended that you avoid travel to any location that is known to have the Zika virus present.

Reduce your risk of mosquito bites by wearing mosquito repellent clothing, staying covered with long sleeves and long pants and by using bug repellent on your body and clothing. Ensure doors and windows are screen covered or kept closed and sleep under mosquito netting.

To reduce the possible spread of the virus, practice abstinence or use condoms in the months following a visit to destination known to have the Zika virus.