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How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting the Zika Virus

August 16, 2016

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 234 pregnant women in the U.S. now have the Zika virus, an infection spread by mosquitoes that could cause birth defects. 

Brazil, where the 2016 Summer Games are taking place, currently has the highest number of Zika cases, with 4,908 reported cases at last count. As the games in Rio go one and more people travel to Brazil and other Zika-affected regions, there’s an increased likelihood that the infection could be transmitted to the United States more rapidly than we are seeing now. Here are four things you can do to reduce your risk of contracting this infection, especially if you are pregnant or intend to become pregnant in the near future. 

Minimize Travel to Zika-Affected Countries

If you are pregnant, you should avoid traveling to Zika-affected countries, the CDC says. If you must travel to any of these countries, it’s best to consult your doctor and take steps to prevent mosquito bites. Use bug repellant whenever you’re outdoors, cover exposed skin if you plan to be outside for long periods or purchase a permethrin-treated bed net if you plan to stay at a hotel in a Zika-affected country. 

Reconsider Visitors

Summer is a great time for family and friends to get together, but if you have loved ones who would like to visit and have recently traveled to or live in a Zika-affected region, it may be best to delay their visit. The virus can be transmitted through semen and blood. If someone infected with Zika is bitten by a mosquito here, that mosquito could then bite and infect other people in the area, causing the virus to spread locally.  

Be Aware of the Symptoms

Zika doesn’t pose a serious health risk to people who contract the virus. In fact, most people aren’t even aware they’ve been infected. However, if you’ve recently traveled to a Zika-affected country or have been bitten by a mosquito and have a rash, fever, joint pain or pinkeye, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to confirm the diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medical treatment for this infection, so the only thing you can do is get enough rest, drink plenty of fluids and take medicine to reduce pain and control the fever. 

Sexual Partners Should Take Added Precautions

The CDC recently set new guidelines for sex after Zika exposure. The guidelines state that men who have been infected with the virus avoid unprotected sex for six months and that men with pregnant partners abstain from sex altogether or use condoms for the remainder of their partner’s pregnancy. Women can also transmit the virus to men through sex. If you are female and have traveled to an area with Zika, you should abstain from sex or use condoms for at least 8 weeks to avoid transmitting the virus to your partner. If you and your partner are planning to have children soon and you have traveled to a Zika-affected country recently, the CDC recommends waiting eight weeks before trying to get pregnant. Taking these precautions could reduce your risk of Zika exposure and microcephaly, a birth defect linked to Zika that can cause severe developmental delays. 

Florida already has had 40 confirmed Zika cases. Our location makes us particularly susceptible to Zika because the mosquitoes that carry the virus are present in our state year-round. With a staff of skilled infectious disease specialists, Orlando Health is equipped to deal with a potential Zika outbreak and can help prevent the spread of the disease locally. We’ve also provided the latest CDC and Florida Department of Health screening and testing protocols to our emergency departments and obstetricians, so they can properly diagnose and advise patients. 

If you’d like more information about the Zika virus, prevention strategies and the latest guidelines, please visit the CDC’s website or the website of the Florida Department of Health.