Last summer, news reports on Zika virus and its transmission were regular occurrences, particularly in the weeks before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. After the Olympics, there was less information about Zika, which is transmitted through the bites of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes or through sexual contact with someone infected by the virus.
Although news about the Zika virus has largely faded, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued travel health notices earlier this year to alert travelers that locally transmitted cases of Zika virus have been reported for several popular tourist destinations. These include Mexico and countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Zika cases through local transmission have also been reported in Texas and Florida.
The Level 2 travel notices recommend that travelers should take extra precautions to protect themselves from the virus, and that pregnant women should not travel to areas in those countries that are below 6,500 feet.
While Zika virus is relatively harmless in most people, it is estimated that one in five people who are infected with the virus will experience its flu-like symptoms. Other symptoms include a rash, joint or muscle pain, or conjunctivitis. However, the virus appears to be more serious for pregnant women, as it has been linked to miscarriages and birth defects, including microcephaly.
Zika virus is also strongly associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, (GBS) although very few people who contract Zika virus come down with GBS. GBS is a serious autoimmune disorder that creates damage to the peripheral nervous system and can lead to muscle damage and paralysis. Most people fully recover from GBS, but may struggle with muscle weakness or tingling for several months up to several years.
How to Protect Yourself from Zika Virus
In its Level 2 travel alert, the CDC recommends delaying travel for women who are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant. It also recommends that women who have traveled to areas that are no longer under a Level 2 alert, such as the Miami-Dade County area in Florida, receive testing for the virus, and that people who are sexually active use a condom, as the virus can remain in semen for months.
The CDC also recommends that anyone who travels to an area with reported cases of Zika virus take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. This includes using insect repellants that include at least 20 percent DEET, covering exposed skin, and sleeping in rooms that are air conditioned instead of sleeping with the windows open at night.
Because of the growing number of locally transmitted cases reported in the United States, including in hot and humid states, the CDC now recommends that doctors screen for the virus in women who are trying to conceive and continue testing them once a trimester. In some parts of the United States, doctors are testing patients who come to them with a rash, which can be a Zika virus symptom.
Medical Transport Services from SentinelMED
Travel to areas where local transmission of Zika virus has been reported should be on travelers’ minds this summer. Since there is no vaccine to prevent transmission of the virus, travelers should visit the CDC’s website for updates and travel warnings. For anyone who is traveling outside the United States, it’s always a wise decision to check with a doctor about required vaccines or medicines to combat illnesses in their destination countries.
Another important way to prepare for international or long-distance travel is to identify a medical transport company that could provide assistance in the event of a medical emergency or illness. SentinelMED provides domestic and international medical transport to the injured and elderly, as well as medical repatriation and medical escort services. The SentinelMED team works closely with hospital case managers to coordinate care for patients from a medical facility to a health care facility closer to their home, or to the home of a family member. In addition, our trained medical escorts are available to travel with patients on commercial airlines to help ensure their safety and comfort. This service can be a cost-effective alternative to air ambulances.
The SentinelMED team understands the complexity of delivering exceptional care to patients who need assistance during travel. Please contact us to learn more about the services that SentinelMED offers or its staff.