No doubt you have heard about the Zika virus in the news cycle these days. I know that some of your team members may be asking questions, and rightfully so. We are, of course, monitoring the situation. Zika is much like Dengue fever, which we have dealt with in Central America for several years, in that it is mosquito-borne and there is no preventative medication for it. As with Dengue, the key for volunteers is to avoid being bitten. For the majority of travelers, Zika does not pose a major risk. The primary concern would be for pregnant women. I have included information from the Centers for Disease Control website below, marked (CDC), with special emphasis on concerns for pregnant women.
Basic Information About Zika (CDC):
- Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites.
- The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
- There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:
What Can Travelers Do To Prevent Zika? (CDC):
- Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label.
- Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children aged >2 months.
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself.
- Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.
Notes from NCBM Concerning the Above Information As It Relates to Honduras, Guatemala and Cuba:
The wearing of long sleeve shirts and long pants are recommended to give coverage. Actually, we recommend that volunteers wear long pants out of cultural respect, and have found that a light long sleeved shirt can actually help in keeping cool on a worksite and avoiding sunburn (emphasis on light).
Our volunteer orientation manual requests that volunteers bring mosquito repellant and use it liberally, applying before departing for the worksite each day, and re-applying mid-day. We recommend repellant with a high percentage of DEET in it.
Our sleeping quarters are air-conditioned, with closed windows, so mosquito netting is not required. Still, after work and showers, it might be a good idea to reapply some repellant just to be extra-safe and to provide peace of mind.
After Your Trip (CDC)
- If you are not feeling well after your trip, you may need to see a doctor. If you need help finding a travel medicine specialist, see Find a Clinic.
- Be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip.
- Also tell your doctor if you were bitten or scratched by an animal while traveling.
Should Pregnant Women Travel to a Country Where Cases of Zika Have Been Reported? (CDC):
Until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:
- Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
- Women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
If a woman who is not pregnant is bitten by a mosquito and infected with Zika virus, will her future pregnancies be at risk? (CDC)
Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week.
The virus will not cause infections in an infant that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.
There is currently no evidence that Zika virus infection poses a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.
A women contemplating pregnancy, who has recently recovered from Zika virus infection, should consult her healthcare provider after recovering.
At this time we feel it is safe for teams to travel to Honduras, Guatemala and Cuba if team members follow the recommendation of taking with them and using mosquito repellant as outlined above and in your orientation manual. Travelers should monitor their health upon their immediate return and see a doctor if they experience any of the symptoms described above. The exception to this would be women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. We would recommend that women who are pregnant (or suspect that they could be pregnant) not travel to Honduras, Guatemala or Cuba at this time. In addition women who plan to become pregnant should wait a period of time upon their return and consult a doctor before proceeding.