Should I stay or should I go? (3/23/2016)

Gearing up for spring break and worried about Zika? Don’t cancel your trip just yet. Here’s what to pack to stay well and enjoy yourself.

With concerns about the Zika virus on the rise, many spring-breakers are thinking twice before heading south in the coming weeks. Paul Schulz, M.D., system epidemiologist for Norton Healthcare, outlines the facts so you can make a well-informed decision on your spring break travels and offers tips on how to protect yourself.

“The Zika virus is spread primarily through mosquito bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” Dr. Schulz said. “This vector (species) of mosquito has not been detected in the United States as of yet but has been found in several southern, tropical destinations. It also is the same vector that carries dengue and chikungunya viruses.”

The list of counties affected by Zika is growing and now includes Aruba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — some of the world’s most popular beach vacation destinations. For many travelers, their spring break trips have been planned for months. Should they cancel their trip?

“The concerns around the Zika virus primarily focus on pregnant women or women planning pregnancy, because the virus has been linked to birth defects, specifically microcephaly,” Dr. Schulz said. “As a family, you may be concerned about Zika and be torn between a family vacation and the fear of contracting the virus.”

There are ways to protect your family and still enjoy your spring break getaway.

“A bug repellent is a safe option for many,” Dr. Schulz said. “When you consider the risk-to-benefit concern of using a product containing DEET versus the potential of being bitten by a mosquito carrying Zika, the DEET is recommended every single time.”

When choosing a bug repellent, look for a product that is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered, and use the product as directed.

“EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women,” Dr. Schulz said.

Recommendations for using insect repellent:

  • Always follow the product label instructions. 
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed. 
  • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing. 
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.

If using insect repellent on a baby or child:

  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. 
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers the arms and legs; or cover the crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting. 
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, or cut or irritated skin.

“To apply repellent to the face, spray it into your hands, and then apply it to your face or your child’s face,” Dr. Schulz said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, staying in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens, and sleeping under a mosquito bed net if you are outside or indoors with open windows.

If you have traveled to an affected area and were bitten by a mosquito, you may still be safe from the virus.

“It appears that only one in five individuals will develop symptoms associated with Zika and most will be mild,” Dr. Schulz said. “In fact, most of the symptoms will be so mild, you may not realize you are sick.”

The main symptoms of Zika can include:

  • Fever 
  • Rash characterized by a flat, red area of the skin that is covered with small bumps that run together 
  • Joint pain 
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Symptoms will appear within three to 12 days from the time of infection. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your physician. While there is no medication to treat Zika, he or she will likely want to see you.

It’s important to know the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually from men to women, even in men who do not have symptoms. Male sex partners of pregnant women should abstain from sexual intercourse with their pregnant partner or use condoms for the remainder of the pregnancy.

“The biggest danger with Zika is to pregnant women and their unborn children,” Dr. Schulz said. “It’s a major concern and should not be taken lightly.”

Find the latest travel recommendations from the CDC

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