Travelers longing for a tropical getaway may be second-guessing their plans because of Zika virus outbreaks in many warm weather destinations. But patients don’t need to immediately cancel their trip unless they are among those at risk for severe complications, says Mia Taormina, DO, FACOI, an osteopathic infectious disease and travel medicine specialist with DuPage Medical Group near Chicago.
“In my travel medicine practice, I partner with patients to help them evaluate their personal risk in situations like this. When there’s no obvious reason to postpone travel, I offer strategies to lower their risk of infection while enjoying the trip,” Dr. Taormina explains. “For some people, the benefits of a warm weather vacation that reconnects them with family or friends may outweigh the potential hazard and that’s a completely valid consideration.”
Dr. Taormina helps break down the following guidelines to help patients evaluate their risk level:
High Risk—Cancel Plans
- Pregnant women
- Women (and their partners) who are attempting to become pregnant
Medium Risk—Consider Postponing
- Anyone with a compromised immune system or chronic disease that makes them more susceptible to severe infection
- The very young and the elderly
For Everyone Else
It’s important for patients to do what they can to avoid being bitten by the Aedes mosquito, which carries the Zika virus. Fortunately, Aedes mosquitos are poor fliers and only tend to bite during the day, according to Dr. Taormina, who recommends travelers schedule activities around mosquitos’ feeding hours.
Some activities to help prevent mosquitos bites include:
- Consider deep water activities, such as sailing or snorkeling, or an air-conditioned indoor cooking class, to limit contact with mosquitos.
- Hike and bike at dawn and dusk to avoid peak mosquito activity.
- Steer clear of wilderness and brush whenever possible and cover up when you’re outside—long sleeves and pants double as sun protection.
- Liberally apply insect repellents—particularly those containing DEET—to enhance protection.
Only 20% of people infected with the Zika virus experience symptoms, which tend to be mild. But consequences for an unborn child can be severe. After travel to a Zika region, Dr. Taormina advises her patients to pause before attempting to conceive. That advice holds true with men as well, since the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted from an infected male to his partner.
Bottom line: If a spring break trip to a Zika hot spot is part of a patient’s plans, they should not attempt to conceive until after consulting with a physician, even if they exhibit no signs or symptoms of the virus.