Do You Still Need to Worry About Zika?

Zika is still a threat for some travelers

While it has primarily faded from mainstream news, Zika is still active in many parts of the world. Even if the mosquito apocalypse that many feared never actually happened, the risk still largely remains for pregnant women and hopeful-to-conceive parents.

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Ob/gyn Oluwatosin Goje, MD, discusses what you need to know about Zika.

The Zika threat has decreased, but it’s still there

“Zika is still a threat for some travelers, but there’s been a big decrease over the past two years of reported Zika transmission,” explains Dr. Goje. “Zika is not an epidemic in the U.S., but there are still some countries with active Zika.”

It’s recommended that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive do not travel to areas that have active Zika infection reported. And on the reverse side, if a man is hoping to achieve pregnancy with his partner, he should not travel to an area that has active Zika infection reported.

If you’re considering traveling, Dr. Goje recommends checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) interactive Zika map, which lists threat levels by travel destination.

Should you cancel travel plans because of Zika?

If you’re debating traveling to a country with a Zika threat, Dr. Goje says that the decision to cancel or postpone your trip is personal and complex.

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“You’ll have to consider your travel destination and will need to protect yourself accordingly,” she says. “You’ll also need to share your decision with your partner and doctor and discuss what that means.”

If a female has traveled to a Zika area, once she returns she should not get pregnant for two months and should use contraception, such as a female or male condom. If a male has traveled to a Zika area, once he returns he should not try to achieve pregnancy with a partner for three months and use contraception. 

The timing between males and females is different because Zika can live longer in semen than in other bodily fluids. Still, the recommended window of sexual transmission is shorter now than it was in years past based on research. Initially, it was to use contraception after Zika exposure for two months and six months for women and men respectively.

“If a couple decides that they’re going to travel to a Zika destination, they will need to decide that they won’t try for pregnancy for the first three months that they are back and instead use contraception,” explains Dr. Goje.  

One of the main reasons experts advise against traveling to Zika risk areas is because of birth defects of babies born from infected parents and lack of treatment.

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Vaccines are in the works, but there is still no cure for Zika, however, doctors can help treat the symptoms of it.

What has Zika taught us?

Prevention is the advocate, says Dr. Goje. Zika has taught us that the world is a global village, and that no matter what we do, we should always be thinking about prevention.

If you find yourself traveling to a Zika area, consider:

  • Covering exposed skin with long clothes.
  • Wear proper insect repellent.
  • Sleep inside with screens or nets.
  • Upon your return abstain from sex or use contraceptives such as a female or male condom for two to three months.

“Those who travel globally should know how to prepare and what to do and look for upon their return,” says Dr. Goje. “Being aware and prevention is your best defense.”

So what’s the bottom line? Zika is still a threat to all travelers, but more specifically to pregnant women and couples trying to become pregnant.

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