Hello, Dr. Gafanovich,
Great to hear from you—thank you very much for reaching out.
Whenever there’s an outbreak like this (especially in the Caribbean), travelers get skittish and sometimes don’t have all the facts, so my story will be a short guide to what travelers need to know about Zika and outbreaks in general. Here are my q’s:
- How worried should travelers be in general about the Zika virus? Is there a previous outbreak that it’s comparable to? (On a scale of, say, Chikungunya to Ebola?)
Any infectious disease, be it Ebola, Chikungunya or Zika are worrisome for all parties concerned. This includes residents of the affected areas, people traveling to and from these areas and healthcare workers. Since Zika has the most powerful impact on pregnant women, there is a definite need for pregnant women to be extra careful and to delay travel to any areas where Zika is active. This currently includes 20 countries/territories in the region of America.
- Is the Zika virus cause for a traveler to cancel a trip they’ve already planned to one of the countries affected? (Countries in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America?)
Yes, it definitely it. Even the CDC is recommending that pregnant women especially should delay travel and those who have traveled to the affected areas immediately get tested for Zika. The Illinois Department of Public Health has reported that two pregnant women in Illinois have tested positive for Zika after having traveled recently.
- What should pregnant travelers know, in relation to the Zika virus? Should they stop traveling?
Yes, they should immediately delay any plans they might have of traveling to any of the affected regions. Pregnant women need to know that the virus is spread by mosquitoes – specifically the Aedes mosquito. While majority of the people infected with the virus do not demonstrate any symptoms except maybe a few and rash, the biggest risk of the virus is to unborn babies. Any pregnant woman affected by the virus is at risk of microcephaly. Microcephaly is when the baby’s head size is below average, the brain does not grow at a normal rate and the head circumference is less than 31.5-32 cam t birth. Pregnant women need to be extra cautious because if infected with the virus, there is a risk that their baby when born will have an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain.
- What precautions should travelers take while in the affected countries in order to prevent becoming infected with the Zika virus?
It is important to remember that there is no treatment for the Zika virus. For those who may be at risk of becoming infected, they are advised to use insect repellants as well as where long-sleeved clothes and protect their skin from any exposure. It is also best to keep windows and doors closed, to ensure that they empty out water immediately so that there is no standing water and most of all, to simply avoid travelling to such regions.
- Regarding ALL infectious diseases and travel, what are the best precautions or actions a traveler can take when he/she hears about an outbreak in a vacation destination?
First is of course to delay travel plans to affected areas whenever possible. If that is not an option, then it is imperative to be vaccinated against the possible infection. If a vaccine is not available, such as the case with the Zika virus, then it is imperative to follow all guidelines issued by the CDC and to minimize risk of exposure and possible infection.
- What would you say is the “keyword” on the news—or a specific degree of infectious-disease severity—that travelers should listen for in order for them to know to immediately CANCEL.
I suppose that would be the keyword “outbreak” since that signifies the extent of the problem. If there is an outbreak of an infection that has the potential to cause severe damage to any party, adult, child or unborn child. it is a definite cause for concern and should be taken seriously.
- Do you have any other thoughts on infectious disease outbreaks and travel?
Cases like that of Ebola or Zika for instance are unfortunate but a reality that we need to accept and deal with. The Zika virus is spreading fast. The WHO is already issuing warnings that it may spread to the Americas and Asia. When such a situation is going on, travel is best avoided. This is good not just for those who plan to travel but also those who may become exposed to the virus from travellers who have just visited the affected regions. These infections are contagious and the biggest transmitters of such infections are travellers. In simple words, outbreaks and travel do not work well together. In order to contain an outbreak, it is essential to control travel.