Zika: How to Protect Yourself

Taking a vacation? Chances are that you’ve heard about protecting yourself against Zika. But just what is Zika and how do you protect yourself?

Zika is a virus primarily spread by mosquitoes, but Zika can also be passed through sexual intercourse from a person who has Zika to sex partners, and from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person who is already infected with Zika. That mosquito can then spread the virus by biting more people. In addition to the above, Zika may also be spread through blood transfusion.

Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Symptoms can last for several days. People don’t usually get sick enough to go to the hospital.

That said, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause fetuses to have a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with the Zika virus before birth, such as defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. There have also been increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in areas affected by Zika.

Zika outbreaks are currently happening in many countries and territories, including the United States. Specific areas are often difficult to determine and are likely to change over time. Travelers should visit the CDC Travelers’ Health Site for current travel notices before leaving home.

Here are some additional recommendations from the CDC.

Pack to prevent:

  • Long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Clothing and gear treated with permethrin
  • Condoms (if you might have intercourse)
  • Bed net (if mosquitoes can get to you where you’re sleeping)
  • EPA-registered insect repellent (ingredients: Deet, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone). When used as directed, this repellent is proven safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well. Babies under 2 months old should not use insect repellent. Cover babies’ strollers and carriers with mosquito netting. Additionally, do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol on children under 3 years old.

Protect yourself:

  • Use insect repellent. Reapply as directed. Remember to apply your sunscreen first!
  • Cover exposed skin when possible.
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms. Use a bed net if sleeping outside.
  • Zika can also be spread through sexual intercourse–use condoms to protect yourself, or abstain.

Ways to STOP the spread:

  • Call your doctor if you have symptoms (red eyes, joint pain, fever, rash).
  • Use insect repellent for three weeks upon your return.
  • Use condoms every time you have sexual intercourse.

How to treat Zika:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take fever/pain-reducing medicine such as acetaminophen.
  • Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • If you are taking medicine for other medical conditions, talk to your healthcare provider before continuing use.

Stay healthy when you travel. If you’re planning a trip abroad for study or leisure, you can always schedule an appointment at the IU Health Center Travel Clinic. While there is no vaccine for Zika, we offer a full range of vaccines and other preventive medications for your overseas trips. Many of our vaccinations are not available anywhere else in Bloomington.

Get in-depth, country-specific information before you go overseas. The IU Health Center subscribes to TRAVAX, a national travel health service. We receive weekly updates on vaccine requirements, health recommendations, and regional travel warnings. Our nurses can also provide you with the latest information on health, political, safety, and weather conditions in the countries where you are traveling.

The Travel Clinic is open to IU Bloomington students, faculty, and staff. The general public is also invited to come in for immunizations from our team of registered nurses. There is a charge for travel appointments.

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