OXFORD, Miss. – Though Zika virus isn’t common in Mississippi yet, those who travel to areas where the illness has been reported should take precautions, advise experts at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi Department of Health.
The illness is a threat for those who travel to Miami and other endemic areas, said Dr. Travis W. Yates, director of University Health Services. Travel-related cases of Zika virus infection have been confirmed in Mississippi, but no locally-transmitted cases have been reported in the state.
“We have had one (local) patient with recently confirmed Zika, who became infected during travel to a Caribbean island,” Yates said. “The Zika illness is usually mild, with symptoms resolving within a week, but it poses a great risk to a developing fetus, including brain damage, hearing and vision loss. Therefore it is of great concern to any woman who is pregnant or planning pregnancy.
“Anyone traveling to a Zika-involved area should adhere to strict protective guidelines which are widely published.”
The University Health Center and other health care providers can arrange for Zika testing through the MDH Public Health Laboratory. The MDH has released information about Zika to warn the public to take precautions.
Zika infects people through the bite of a mosquito, and the virus can be sexually transmitted. About 80 percent of cases display either no symptoms or mild symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Zika can cause fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis.
In a pregnant woman, Zika can cause her child to suffer severe or fatal birth defects. It damages the brain of a developing baby, causing it to be born with a much smaller head and brain, vision and hearing problems or other neurological disorders. In some cases, the virus can cause stillbirth.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued travel advisories for those visiting affected areas. The Caribbean and areas of Mexico and Central and South America are seeing large outbreaks of the illness. Zika virus has infected many travelers returning to the U.S. from these areas, including Mississippians. In Florida, Zika has been found in mosquitoes.
MDH recently issued these precautionary measures and general information about the illness:
– Pregnant women should not travel to Zika-affected areas.
– Pregnant women should not have sex with any man who has traveled to a Zika-affected area without using a condom during sex throughout her entire pregnancy.
– Because Zika can be transmitted sexually, men who have traveled to or who live in an area where Zika virus is actively being transmitted should abstain from sex with pregnant women, or use condoms properly every time they have vaginal, anal and oral sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
– Men can transmit the virus sexually to both women and men, and women may also transmit the virus to other women through sexual activity.
– Men should use condoms every time they have any type of sex for at least eight weeks after travel to Zika-affected areas.
Before traveling, check for countries where Zika virus is actively being transmitted. Women, whether pregnant or not, should take strong protective measures against mosquitoes when traveling in those areas. While there is no vaccine to prevent Zika, travelers can protect themselves by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites.
When traveling to countries where Zika virus has been reported:
– Use insect repellent.
– Wear long sleeves and pants.
– Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
– Sleep under a mosquito net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
If you return from an area where Zika virus is being actively transmitted, protect others by following these steps:
– Take special precautions to avoid mosquito bites for three weeks after you return home to prevent the transmission of the virus to local mosquitoes. This includes using mosquito repellent whenever you are outdoors, avoiding areas with mosquitoes, dressing in long pants and sleeves, and staying indoors as much as possible.
– Do not remove standing water in your yard yourself for three weeks after you return home. This has a greater chance of exposing you to local mosquitoes. After three weeks, removing standing water around your home is recommended to reduce mosquito breeding.
– Men should not have sex of any type with a pregnant woman for the duration of her pregnancy, or use condoms consistently until the end of pregnancy.
– Men should use condoms every time they have any type of sex for at least eight weeks after they return home.
– Men who develop symptoms of Zika should use condoms for six months after the onset of symptoms.
– Pregnant women who have recently traveled to an area with Zika should talk to a health care provider about their travel even if they don’t feel sick. They should be tested for Zika after returning home, even if they don’t develop any symptoms of the disease. If a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes are present during the trip, or within two weeks after returning home, see a doctor as soon as possible.
– Women wishing to become pregnant should wait eight weeks after travel to Zika-affected areas, or wait eight weeks after any Zika symptoms appear before trying to conceive.