With the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America and its current spread, many people are concerned about the safety in these areas. This applies to people interested in traveling to and within areas at risk for Zika. While the illness is generally mild and there are no travel bans so far, it’s still important to inform yourself about traveling in Zika areas before going.
Whether your volunteer stay is already planned or you’re still in the process, our article will answer your questions about traveling in Zika areas. Learn about which countries are affected and get information about the spread of the virus, symptoms and what to do when you’re ill. Furthermore, get advice for your volunteer stay and learn about what happens when you’re back.
Facts about the Zika virus
- The Zika virus is transmitted through bites of infected mosquitos from the Aedes species.
- The mosquitos become infected in turn when biting humans that have been infected with the virus.
- These mosquitos bite primarily at daytime, but can also bite at night.
- An infection doesn’t mean that you’ll become ill for sure. Approx. 1 in 5 people who are infected become ill.
From mother to child
- The infection from mother to child is possible during the pregnancy.
- Breastfeeding is considered safe. So far, there have been no known cases of infections through breastfeeding.
- The virus is not only present in blood but also in semen.
- A man can spread the virus to his partner during sex.
- Read about sex after an infection below.
- There have been reports of cases of infections through blood transfusions in Brazil.
- Investigations regarding these reports are currently ongoing.
- The common symptoms of Zika are: Fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache.
- In most cases the illness is mild and symptoms last for up to a week.
- Most people don’t need to go to a hospital.
- The incubation period is not clear, but it’s believed to be between a few days and a week.
- There’s no vaccine to prevent an infection.
- You can take precautions though. Read about what you can do below.
- People who have been infected are likely to be protected from becoming infected again.
- If you show the symptoms from above, a blood test can prove whether you’re infected or not.
- First of all, you need a lot of rest.
- Drink plenty of water. Your body shouldn’t be dehydrated.
- Your doctor will give you medicine to treat fever and pain.
- Don’t take other medicines. If you have to, always talk to your doctor in advance.
- Avoid mosquito bites, because the mosquito will become infected and spread the virus. See how to avoid mosquito bites below.
Does Zika affect the country I’m traveling to?
Because of the current spread of the Zika virus and its omnipresence within the media, the illnes seems to be quite new. In fact, it was first found in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. The map below shows the currently affected countries in the Americas. Other countries are listed below.
Other countries with active Zika virus transmission are American Samoa, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Cape Verde (Feb 29, 2016).
Advice for traveling in Zika areas
Now you know everything about the Zika virus and which areas are affected by it. But what does that mean for your volunteer stay? Get advice about volunteering in Zika areas and the precautions you should take during and after you volunteering trip below.
- Since the illness is usually mild, volunteering in Zika areas is not dangerous.
- You should still take the precautions listed below and stay up to date.
- Exception: We advise pregnant women against volunteering in Zika areas. There’s a chance your baby will become infected during the pregnancy. The Zika virus is strongly suspected to cause brain defects in babies, however, more investigation is needed.
How to avoid mosquito bites
- Wear long-sleeved clothing, trousers and closed shoes.
- Use air conditioning and keep doors and windows closed.
- Use a mosquito bed net if air conditioning is not available.
- Use insect repellents and reapply as often as suggested in the instructions.
- Apply your sun cream before using the insect repellent.
- It also helps to use permethrin on your clothing, but don’t use it directly on your skin.
- Use condoms to prevent sexual transmission.
- The Zika virus usually remains in the blood for about a week. In some cases it can be found longer though.
- There are currently no reasons to believe that an infection is a risk to future pregnancies.
Whether you’re returning after traveling in a Zika area or are concerned about infecting your partner there, consider the following:
- The virus can be found in semen longer than in blood after an infection.
- It’s therefore recommended to use condoms after an infection.
- If you didn’t show any symptoms, you should use condoms for at least a month after coming home (to an area that’s not affected by Zika).
- If you did show symptoms it’s recommended to use them for six months.
We hope that our facts about the Zika virus and the advices for traveling in Zika areas helped to prepare you for your trip. If you follow our tips, there’s no need to be too concerned about traveling in Zika areas. But be aware, that the situation is constantly changing. To stay up to date: Please check CDC’s and ECDC’s websites for the most current information about the Zika virus.