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Zika and Travellers

February 2nd, 2016

Zika virus has exploded onto the collective consciousness lately, due to media stories about birth defects in Brazil being possibly linked to Zika virus.

Another reason to seek good medical advice before travel

Frankly this is just one of the many things that are out there and pose a risk to travellers. (This is why it is so important to see travel doctors before you travel. There are LOTS of other diseases out there that the media is not talking about.)

Believing the the following when it comes to travel health is a BAD idea.

  • She’ll be right
  • My friends didn’t get shots and they were OK
  • The shots are too expensive
  • I’m only staying in nice hotels
  • I’ve never heard of any problems

When I see people sick with tropical or travel diseases … the most common thing I hear from them  is …”I had no idea  XXX  was out there. ”

I sigh…of course it is not your job to know – that is why lots of travellers seek professional advice. Getting a tropical disease is like winning a bad lottery that you did not sign up for – and it mostly affects the unprepared.

Get the right advice, Get the right shots – especially if you are pregnant and travelling. It is worth it… but now back to Zika; here is what we know at the moment.

About Zika

List of countries with active Zika transmission 

Current evidence suggests more than a million persons have been infected by Zika virus in Brazil.  Over 4,000 babies have been born with a tragic birth defect called microcephaly where their brain does not grow properly. This seems to be linked to Zika infection in early pregnancy. This is a profound and untreatable condition, that will cause problems for the family for decades.

Aedes aegypti biting a human arm.

Aedes aegypti biting a human arm.

Zika virus is like Dengue virus – transmitted by mosquitoes and leads to similar symptoms: mostly mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis. Symptoms typically develop between 2 and 7 days after the mosquito bite and usually lasts only a few days.  Zika is usually less severe than Dengue. In fact, in areas where both circulate – it can be hard to tell them apart without very specialised tests.

Most persons ( about 80%) who catch Zika don’t even get sick.

There is no vaccine

There is no vaccine, and no specific treatment, and if you are male or female and not pregnant Zika might be a bit of a story to tell but not a big deal in the scheme of things.

Everyone needs to use mosquito repellent when they travel ..  everywhere tropical- even in Brisbane we have Ross River fever and Barmah Forest disease.

However…Pregnant women must stay away from areas with Zika infection, especially in early pregnancy. Women of childbearing age must use effective contraception while in these areas.

Zika cannot affect future pregnancies. As long as you are not pregnant when you visit Zika areas, you do not have to worry. Ideally wait a month after potential exposure before trying for pregnancy, so there is time for Zika to show itself and be over before pregnancy

Friends or family who have returned from south america and are well will not pose a risk to persons who may get pregnant later. SICK friends or family who have been to South America need to see a doctor and sleep under mosquito nets to avoid infecting our mosquitoes here.

Other useful links

The World Health Organisation has declared this outbreak in babies a public health emergency. This will mobilise funding and international assistance to help solve the puzzle and prevent more cases. It does not mean that this  disease is a particular threat to the non pregnant travellers

The virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947. Few human cases were reported until 2007, when a Zika outbreak occurred in Yap, Micronesia.

Zika is like a smouldering fire – sometimes a spark is thrown and it starts a fire, sometimes a very big fire. Infectious diseases do this.

Questions and Answers on Zika and pregnancy  from the CDC 

Zika virus in 6 charts and maps

Story from Time Magazine about the early states of the epidemic and its link to birth defects

This link contains links to everything you want to know about Zika but were afraid to ask.

Feel free to post questions


2 Responses to “Zika and Travellers”

  1. Charnea Dalgety says:

    I recently got bitten by a monkey in Bali and have been in to see you a couple of time for all of the relevant shots.
    I have heard this morning about some confirmed casses of the Zika virus and thought i would ask for some advice on what i should do.

    The monkey bite has been about 4 weeks ago


    • Dr Deb says:

      HI – the link to Zika is not entirely proved. If you indeed caught Zika you would know by now so there is nothing more you need to do unless you were pregnant when you were bitten in Bali. Kind regards Dr Deb

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