Pregnant women take heed: You may want to postpone that spring break trip to Mexico or summer getaway to the Caribbean.
Health officials are advising women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid traveling to certain parts of Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean due to mosquito transmission of a virus that has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert two weeks ago after health officials in Brazil reported links between the Zika virus and microcephaly in babies of mothers who were infected with the virus while pregnant.
But local health officials say pregnant women — and those who are trying to become pregnant — don’t have to worry about contracting the virus if they’re not traveling. And nonpregnant adults don’t need to alter their travel plans because the virus often doesn’t cause symptoms and, when it does, the symptoms are mild.
“There’s no risk of acquiring Zika if you don’t travel outside of Clark County,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer and public health director.
No cases of Zika transmission have been reported in the U.S. Some Americans have tested positive for the virus after traveling to countries with widespread virus transmission. So even traveling within the U.S. isn’t risky at this point.
“It’s incredibly low risk,” said Dr. Gregory Carroll, president and medical director of Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care. “We’re really not an area where this virus is endemic.”
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in rhesus monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The virus was identified in humans in that area in 1952, but cases were sporadic for decades, according to the World Health Organization.
The virus is transmitted by the same mosquitoes that transmit yellow fever and dengue fever; those mosquitoes are not in the Northwest, Melnick said. The virus has not been shown to be transmitted person to person, he said.
Currently, there is no immunization to prevent Zika infection and no treatment for the virus.
The first outbreak of Zika was reported in the Pacific in 2007, and other small outbreaks have occurred since then. Late last year, health officials in Brazil linked an outbreak of the virus to an increase in babies born with microcephaly.
Microcephaly is a birth defect in which the baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared with babies of the same age and sex. Babies with microcephaly often have small, underdeveloped brains or brains that stop developing after birth, according to the CDC.
The birth defect is linked to a variety of other issues, such as seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, feeding problems, hearing loss, vision problems and difficulty with movement or balance, according to the CDC.
Between October and January, Brazilian health officials reported more than 3,500 microcephaly cases, according to the CDC.
Tests on samples from pregnancies that ended in miscarriage and infants diagnosed with microcephaly who died shortly after birth found the virus was present and matched the strain circulating in Brazil, according to the CDC.
But there’s still a lot that is unknown about the virus and its effect on developing fetuses. More tests and research are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika infection during pregnancy, according to the CDC.
So, as a precaution, health officials are advising women in all trimesters of pregnancy to avoid traveling to areas where Zika transmission is occurring.
“If you are pregnant and you have to travel to one of these countries, you have to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites,” Melnick said.
To prevent mosquito bites, Melnick recommends using insect repellent, avoiding going outside when mosquitoes are active, staying in places with air conditioning and screens on the windows, and wearing long sleeves and pants.
Women who are trying to become pregnant should also either delay their travel plans or postpone pregnancy until after they’ve finished traveling, Melnick said. Women who become pregnant after contracting Zika will not be putting their pregnancy at risk if the virus has already cleared their bloodstream, which takes about one week, he said.
“Once you clear the virus, which is pretty quick, there’s no risk to your child,” he said.
Zika infection does not pose a risk to women breast-feeding a baby, either, Melnick said.
“It’s not a reason to stop nursing,” he said.
Nonpregnant adults can take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, as well. But, typically, the virus does not cause any symptoms.
Only about one in five people infected with the virus show symptoms, which include fever, rash and joint pain, Carroll said.
Nonpregnant adults with symptoms of Zika should get plenty of rest, drink fluids and take Tylenol to manage their fever, Carroll said. Medical care isn’t typically necessary unless the fever isn’t controlled by Tylenol or the person becomes dehydrated, he said.
Pregnant women who have traveled to a country where Zika is circulating should check with their physician if they have concerns, Carroll said.