What Parents Need to Know About Summer Travel and the Zika Virus
As millions of Americans make summer travel plans to new and exciting places, one of the last things anyone wants to worry about is contracting a dangerous virus. This is especially true for pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant.
The Zika virus is creating quite a stir in the media. It is a virus most commonly spread to people through an infected mosquito, however it can also be spread through sexual intercourse. Outbreaks have occurred in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, parts of South America and much of the Caribbean. To date, only travel-associated cases of Zika have occurred in the U.S., however cases have occurred in U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
The most common symptoms are a rash, fever, joint pain and pink eye. Due to its’ mild symptoms, the Zika virus can often be mistaken for other more common viruses. In some cases, symptoms do not appear.
While rarely fatal, the Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, which can cause a birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head and brain do not develop properly resulting in a significantly smaller head size. This condition is also often attributed to hearing and vision defects as well as impaired growth. There are currently no reports of infants getting the virus through breastfeeding.
The million-dollar question many parents have is whether or not they should postpone their plans to travel to countries that have had outbreaks of the Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has warned that pregnant women in any trimester should avoid travel to areas where the Zika virus has been documented. If avoiding travel is not possible, steps should be taken to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. The CDC also recommends that women who are trying to become pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant talk to their doctor before traveling. Infants and children can be infected with the Zika virus. Precautions should also be taken to prevent children and other family members from getting mosquito bites.
While no treatment is currently available for the Zika virus, the best defense outside of postponing travel to countries affected with the virus, is to wear clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible (long sleeve shirts, long pants). Insect repellents and mosquito nets should also be used, however insect repellent should not be used on children under two years of age. Pregnant women who have traveled recently to areas where Zika outbreaks are present should be tested for Zika – even if they do not feel sick.
If you additional questions about the Zika virus, or if you suspect your child may have the virus our pediatric providers are here to help. Schedule an appointment by calling 910-486-5437 or visit Rainbow Pediatrics online.