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Zika Virus: What Travellers Need to Know

One of the most hotly-discussed topics among travellers at present is the growing threat of Zika. But what really is Zika, what are the real risks and how should you protect yourself from them?

Zika is a virus carried by mosquitoes; primarily the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Rather like malaria, one contracts it mainly from being bitten by an infected mosquito. At present medical authorities are unsure of whether the virus may be passed from person-to-person such as during intercourse but current recommendations suggest taking care just in case.

As of this month over 45 countries have reported the discovery of the Zika virus among their population. The virus at present is found most commonly in Central and South America. Other parts of the world do not seem to have been affected at present, though the mosquitoes have the potential to spread north into the USA as the weather begins to warm up.

So, should travellers to these areas necessarily be worried, or are the media blowing things out of proportion? The evidence suggests that even in infected individuals, very few of us actually display any kind of symptoms. It has been suggested that only around 1 in 4 cases actually show any visible signs.

In those cases where individuals are unlucky enough to be affected the most common symptoms are similar to Dengue Fever, for which it can be mistakenly identified. Typical impacts of an infection include fever, rashes, conjunctivitis or reddened eyes, headaches and general muscle pain. Possibly worst of all a small minority of sufferers have experienced swollen and painful joints, sometimes resulting in short-term localized paralysis.

In general most people manage to rapidly beat the infection. Medical authorities advise that those affected should consume plenty of fluids and take standard pain medications. The symptoms are likely to subside in between 2 and 7 days, after which remission will be experienced. The virus is believed to only remain in the body for a week or so, after which time the immune system has built up enough immunity to beat it.

As a result, the presence of the Zika virus in a certain country shouldn’t necessarily lead you to cancel your holiday plans altogether – with the exception of pregnant ladies.

An unfortunate further effect of Zika infections is that they can cause babies to be born with brain and head abnormalities which could impact them in later life. Tests in Brazil suggest that the effects are greatest in women infected in their first trimester of pregnancy.

In general authorities are advising women who are pregnant, or plan to become so shortly, to avoid infected areas for the safety of their unborn child.

So what about the rest of us? Assuming you’re still planning to jet off to Costa Rica or Brazil, how best should you protect yourself? The answer is to use similar strategies one might to protect oneself from malaria.

Experts recommend wearing full-length sleeves and trousers in order to minimize exposed skin, to use mosquito repellent containing DEET and to wear insect-repellent infused clothes wherever possible.

Please note that this is our best understanding of the information currently available and should not be taken as medical advice. Please speak to your General Practitioner should you have any questions pertaining to the Zika virus in plenty of time before your trip overseas.

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