HealthB4Travel

Zika Virus – Answering Your Questions

It was about this time last year that the Zika Virus was the breaking news, making the headlines of all newspapers and being reported on all news stations.  It didn’t take long for the average person to be aware of this disease and the association it had to certain destinations.  Destinations that most travellers frequent quite often, thereby putting a major strain on the tourist industry as the average traveller started to rethink their travel plans. Then as time passed, this news hype over the “Aedes aegypti,”  mosquito, seemed to fade into the background as other news stories became the “Trump.”

But the disease infested mosquito did not go away.  Contraire, the tiny, annoying insect is still very much alive and still spreading the virus to the known destinations we have become accustomed to as well as new locations on the map.

The public still have questions about this virus and are curious as to the outcome of their health if they were to be affected and also what about those known destinations and any travel plans they may have.   Health Canada has put out a recent update on the recommendations for the Zika virus and can be found at – http://www. travel.gc.ca

There are some key factors that I would like to address in this article, for your quick reference, and also to answer some of the many questions that I get asked with regards to the Zika virus.

Pregnancy

This is a very real concern, especially since the discovery of the virus, not only passing the placenta wall of the pregnant woman to her unborn child, but also that the virus is carried in the semen of the male partner as well.  So the guidelines in this situation may come across very strict.

  • Pregnant women or women planning on becoming pregnant should avoid travel to the known infected countries. Check with the local health website to see which locations are affected, since new destinations are being added on a regular basis, especially in the United States.
  • If travel cannot be postponed it is very important to be very diligent with the insect repellent, and remember these insects are active in the day as well as the night and also are found indoors. Another safety would be to sleep with mosquito netting over your bed, for the added protection.

Symptoms

The thing to understand about this virus is that it has a relatively long incubation period and the symptoms, if you are infected are not always noticeable.  Therefore you may have been infected with the virus and not even know it.

  • Incubation period is anywhere from 3 – 12 days. So you are likely to return from your trip before any symptoms show up.
  • The most common symptoms are – low grade fever, rash, sore joints, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain and lack of energy.

Sexually Transmitted Disease

It is now known that this virus can be transmitted sexually and therefore is necessary to take the appropriate precautions.

  • Women who are pregnant should ALWAYS use condoms while they are pregnant. Or if you want to be extra cautious AVOID sex all together.
  • Women who are NOT pregnant may want to postpone trying to conceive for at least 2 months after returning from a Zika infested area to be absolutely sure that if you were infected and unaware that the virus has cleared from the body.
  • Males, if your partner is pregnant, then follow the same rule with regards to condoms or abstinence.
  • Males should avoid trying to impregnate any woman within 6 months of returning from one of these known destinations.

Known Diseases

To date we have read and heard about the Zika virus crossing the placenta wall during pregnancy and causing the foetus to be born with microcephaly (a small head), which is what we are all concerned about.  Especially since there are so many documented cases in a few of the affected countries.  What we may not be aware of is that there are a few other associated defects, to the foetus, that have been associated with this virus.  Some babies have been born blind, deaf and short in stature.  Another neurological syndrome that has been reported is Guillain-Barre, which has been diagnosed in some of  the infected adults.

It is important to note the Zika virus complications are generally not long lasting and usually have no health related after effects.  The real threat lies predominately with the unborn child.

Testing

There is a blood test that can be done to determine if you have been infected with this virus while you were away.  The blood test should be done no sooner than at least 3 days after your arrival at this destination and up to 14 days after you have left the affected area and returned home.  If you test positive or have had symptoms, you will need to do a follow up blood test, up to 6 months later.  Also please note that this is a reportable disease to the Public Health department and will be recorded and monitored according to department directives.

Measures are being taken on an on-going basis to not only to contain this virus but to find an antidote through a vaccination program to try and put an end to this genetic altering infestation.  Since information is changing all the time it is important to speak to a health care professional if you have any questions or concerns regarding your health or the consideration of conceiving.  As well as check the website for updated news and recommendations – http://www.travel.gc.ca

 

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