Protect against Zika virus during spring break travel

AMES, Iowa -- Providers at Iowa State’s Thielen Student Health Center encourage spring break travelers headed to Zika virus-affected areas to take precautions.

The Zika virus is primarily transmitted through bites from an infected Aedes mosquito, the same species that spread Chikungunya and Dengue fever. These mosquitoes aren’t established in Iowa, but are in areas of ongoing Zika transmission – Brazil, Mexico, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), Central and South America and the Pacific Islands. While rare, spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact also have been reported.

The virus’ greatest risk is to pregnant women or those who may become pregnant, due to possible links to microcephaly (a birth defect causing small heads and incomplete brain development in infants). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued travel guidance for pregnant women, warning them to avoid visiting places where the Zika virus is circulating.

Symptoms of Zika are typically mild, and severe illness is rare. About one in five infected with the virus become ill. The most common symptoms include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, headache or conjunctivitis (red eyes). There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites

When traveling to countries where Zika or other viruses spread by mosquitoes are found, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) as directed.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. Permethrin products should not be applied directly to skin.

The Iowa Department of Public Health announced the state’s first lab-confirmed case of travel-associated Zika virus Feb. 19. The most current travel information regarding Zika may be found on the CDC’s website.