You and your spouse have purchased your plane tickets for Brazil to attend the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. However, the alarming headlines about the presence of the Zika virus in Brazil are causing you to have second thoughts. Should you cancel the trip you've been looking forward to for years, or go anyway and hope you don't get the virus? It can be a tough decision. Here's what you should know to make the best decision for you.
About the Zika Virus
Zika is a viral disease transmitted mainly by a certain type of mosquitoes, but new evidence shows that it can also be sexually transmitted. It typically causes mild, flu-like symptoms, such as fever, joint pain, rash, and other symptoms. You may not even realize you have or had the virus.
However, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects such as neurological disorders and microcephaly, a condition in which the brain is abnormally small and underdeveloped. The virus is also associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder of the peripheral nervous system that causes weakness or paralysis of the extremities.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947, and since then, many outbreaks of Zika have been reported around the globe, primarily in warm climates, where mosquitoes are prevalent. In 2015, Brazil was hit by an outbreak of the disease, and in February 2016, the World Health Organization named Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The outbreak is especially worrisome because of the upcoming arrival of hundreds of thousands of athletes and spectators for the 2016 Olympics.
The good news is that the Olympics are in August, which is not peak season for mosquitoes, and Brazilian authorities are already working diligently on mosquito control and educating the public about prevention. Unfortunately, with that many people gathered in one area, there are bound to be Zika infections, and because the disease has few symptoms, it will be very difficult to screen people for the disease. There will likely be cases in which infected people unknowingly carry the virus back to their native countries, further spreading the disease.
Precautions If You Go
If you decide to travel to Rio (or any place that has current outbreaks of Zika), there are a few precautions you can take to lessen the likelihood of becoming infected with the virus:
- Seek the advice of your primary care physician. He or she can explain the risks and offer recommendations for staying healthy.
- Experts advise pregnant women or those not currently using birth control, not to travel to any countries with current Zika infections.
- Minimize the risk of mosquito exposure through regular application of mosquito repellents. According to Consumer Reports, the most effective products contain at least 20% picaridin or 25% deet. Least effective products are those based on natural plant oils, such as citronella, lemongrass, or cedar oil.
- Choose safety over comfort, and wear clothes that fully cover your skin. When indoors, use mosquito netting and use air conditioning rather than opening windows. When possible, limit activities to the daytime, when fewer mosquitoes are present.
- Abstain from sex or use condoms during travel and for 28 days after returning home.
- See your physician if you experience flu-like system during or after your trip.
There is no vaccine against the Zika virus, so if you travel to a region where the virus may be present, make all efforts to reduce your exposure. Scientists are currently working on a vaccine, and it could possibly be available before you travel, so stay informed about the latest developments so you can have the safest experience possible. If you think you might have contracted this virus, be sure to go to a medical clinic as soon as possible to get a diagnosis.