There has been an alarming spread of an infectious disease caused by the mosquito-spread Zika virus. Ars Technica reported on Jan. 17, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel advisory for 14 countries which have had widespread Zika virus outbreaks. Due to rising evidence that the skyrocketing numbers of severe birth defects in Brazil have been due to the Zika virus the CDC has cautioned pregnant women and women who are planning to become pregnant to postpone travel to many Latin American and Caribbean countries and territories which are experiencing Zika virus outbreaks.
The CDC has recommended special precautions in traveling to these countries until more becomes known about this disease outbreak. The special advisory includes 14 countries and territories where Zika virus has recently spread including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, French Guiana, Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, Martinique, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela. This appears to be the first time the CDC has recommended pregnant women avoid specific areas due to outbreaks.
Health experts say the CDC took the position that heightened precaution was justified after new evidence was found to directly link the virus to four cases of microcephaly. Microcephaly is a serious condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains. This condition may be fatal. The CDC made the special precautionary announcement after the Hawaii State Department of Health confirmed the first US case of a baby which was born with microcephaly along with evidence of a Zika virus infection. In several cases of Zika in the US the people hit with the illness were infected outside of the country and returned home with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Zika virus spreads to people via mosquito bites. Fever, joint pain, rash and conjunctivitis are the most common symptoms of Zika virus disease. This illness is generally mild with symptoms which last from several days to a week. It is uncommon for severe disease which requires hospitalization to occur. At this time there is no specific treatment or vaccine for Zika.
Travelers are advised to protect themselves from this disease by attempting to prevent mosquito bites. When visiting countries where Zika virus or other viruses which are spread by mosquitoes have been reported it is advisable to use insect repellent, wear long sleeve shirts and pants, and stay in places which have air conditioning or that have screens on windows and doors. The new concerns about the possibility of microcephaly in the children of affected pregnant mothers is alarming and special precautions should be taken to deal with this threat.