As mosquito season begins and summer travel plans are solidified, the Maryland Department of Health encourages Marylanders, especially pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant, to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases, predominantly the Zika virus.
Zika virus is chiefly spread through mosquito bites, though it can also be spread via sexual contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pregnant women not travel to areas with risk of Zika, many of which are vacation hotspots during the summer and fall months. No vaccine exists to prevent Zika or its related birth defects. Most individuals infected with Zika virus do not have symptoms or experience only mild symptoms such as fever, rash, headache, joint pain, red eyes, and muscle pain which lasts from several days to a week.
“While we want everyone to have fun on their vacations this summer, we want them to be aware of the risk of Zika when traveling to Zika-affected areas,” said Maryland Department of Health Public Health Services Deputy Secretary Howard Haft, MD. “Pregnant women and those trying to conceive should talk to their health care provider about any risks before they travel.”
Pregnant women should refrain from traveling to areas with risk of Zika. Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant and have either traveled to or are considering traveling to an area with risk of Zika should contact their health care provider.
Sexual transmission guidance for both men and women has been updated by the CDC. If a male partner has traveled to an area with risk of Zika, the couple should consider using condoms or abstain from sex for at least six months. If only the female partner has traveled to an area with risk of Zika, the couple should consider using condoms or abstain from sex for at least eight weeks.
When traveling to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes are found, travelers are advised to take the following steps:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Always follow the product label instructions.
- Reapply insect repellent as directed.
- Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
- If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
- If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
- Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.
More than 5,500 symptomatic cases of Zika virus occurred in the U.S. and more than 37,000 symptomatic cases occurred in the U.S. Territories, according to the CDC. Maryland has reported 247 confirmed and probable cases of Zika virus as of May 30, 2018, and all of them were attributed to travel. As part of that surveillance, the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry (USZPR) collected information on more than 2,400 pregnancies with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection, including 128 pregnancies from Maryland residents.
Recent findings from this data show that Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant women to her fetus and that infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly—a birth defect characterized by smaller heads and underdeveloped brains in newborns—and several fetal brain defects. Currently, however, the full range of health effects in infants from Zika virus infection is unknown, making continued surveillance important. This is of particular concern for newborns without notable defects at birth who may exhibit Zika associated developmental delays later in early childhood.
To learn more, please visit zika.maryland.gov. For more CDC information on avoiding Zika infection during travel, visit http://goo.gl/lgHuWC. For CDC information on the Zika virus in Spanish, visit http://goo.gl/9oYFgj.