With the cooler weather in the north comes trips to warmer locales, where it is the rainy season. While travel planning can be exhaustive, ensuring that you stay healthy during and after your trip is always a concern. If you are 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. Zika primarily spreads through infected Aedes species mosquitoes. It is also sexually transmitted and spreads from mother to fetus. It’s 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 not always. 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 is detected through blood and urine tests.

There are currently no immunizations or medications to prevent or treat the Zika virus. Previously infected are believed to be immune to future infections.

Where is Zika present?

The areas where the 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. Birth defects like microcephaly or Guillain-Barre Syndrome may be caused by the virus.

Women can carry the Zika virus in their bodies for up to two months after contracting the virus. To avoid pregnancy risks and birth defects, women should wait at least two months before trying to conceive after traveling.

Men can pass along the Zika virus through sexual contact up to six months after being exposed. The virus doesn’t always present symptoms. Therefore, 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, avoid travel to locations with Zika 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. 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 virus.

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