August is considered to be one of the biggest travel months of the year. This summer, Zika is posing a number of health concerns for people headed off on vacation.

Whether you’re visiting a Caribbean paradise, heading down to Rio for the Olympics, or staying with family in Florida— where recently, 10 new cases of the disease have been reported—it’s important to understand what the virus is, its risks, and symptoms when traveling to Zika-infected areas.

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Zika is a viral illness most commonly spread through the bite of the Aedes mosquito— a type of mosquito typically found in tropical and subtropical zones.

It’s usually a mild disease in adults that may last anywhere from several days to a week. While many people infected with Zika won’t display symptoms, the most common indications patients should watch out for are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

What is dangerous about Zika is that it can be sexually transmitted and be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

Zika has been linked to birth defects such as microcephaly, hearing defects, visual defects and others.

There is no vaccine as yet. The only protection against infection or spreading the virus is to get tested, prevent mosquito bites in Zika endemic areas, and to avoid unprotected sexual intercourse with those who live or have recently traveled to those areas and may have been affected.

Here are some tips to prevent Zika transmission from mosquitoes:

  1. Clothing: It is important to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Avoid loose fitting clothes that could carry mosquitos, and avoid bright colors which attract mosquitos. Wear closed-toe shoes. If you have come in contact with mosquitoes, treat clothing and gear with permethrin with multiple washings or purchase permethrin-treated items. Note permethrin is an insecticide and should be used for clothing only; do not use on skin.
  2. Control your environment: If possible, stay in places with air conditioning and use screens for windows and doors. Keep car windows closed, and sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside. Please note: You cannot use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. To protect your child, cover their crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  3. Cover yourself with mosquito repellants: Make sure to choose a bug repellant that is EPA-registered. Repellants used need to contain one of the following: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.
  4. Choose when to go outside: Stay indoors during sunrise and sunset as it is peak biting time for many mosquitos.
  5. Caution with standing water: Be careful around lakes and ponds and change standing water around your home often.

If you must travel to areas with Zika, and you exhibit symptoms, women should avoid getting pregnant for at least 8 weeks, while men should avoid having unprotected sex for at least 6 months.

If you are pregnant and must travel to a Zika infected area, be sure to get tested for Zika via urine and blood. Pregnant women should be monitored throughout their pregnancy.

Additionally, pregnant women whose partners have traveled to or live in endemic Zika areas should abstain from sex, or have protected sex through the duration of their pregnancy.

If you do contract Zika, there are no specific treatments at this time. However, the disease is usually self-limiting. The goal is to treat symptoms, so it is important to rest and stay hydrated. Patients can also take Tylenol for body aches and fever.

Let your physician know if you have traveled to a Zika infected area or have had sexual intercourse with someone who has and exhibits symptoms, so that you can be tested within the first week.

Dr. Lisa Ashe serves as the Medical Director of Be Well Medical Group- a leading concierge medicine and wellness group currently serving the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia metro areas.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.