Zika 2017: Pack Your Bug Spray, Domestic Travel is No Escape from Virus

With more than 5,000 cases of Zika reported in the United States over the past year and infections in 84 countries worldwide, osteopathic physicians advise patients to protect themselves against mosquito-borne illnesses at foreign and domestic destinations.

Spring break travelers should know that more than 200 cases of Zika were acquired in Florida, and the virus remains a significant travel concern for people of child-bearing years, according to Mia Taormina, DO, FACOI, an infectious disease and travel medicine specialist at DuPage Medical Group in Chicago’s western suburbs.

“Overall, there seems to be less fear and concern about Zika, with more patients traveling to outbreak areas and fewer patients asking to be tested for the virus,” said Dr. Taormina. “As we head into peak travel period, it’s important to remind people of the need to be vigilant about preventing mosquito bites. When you live in a cold weather climate, it’s easy to forget the summer routine of bug spray and sunscreen.”

Osteopathic physicians deem insect repellent as essential as sunscreen in warm weather because of its potential to prevent a variety of mosquito-borne illnesses, including Zika, West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya and malaria, all of which have been reported in the United States.

While the current focus is on the Zika virus because of its association to severe birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome, it’s important to understand that mosquito bites aren’t an unavoidable summer nuisance, they’re a public health hazard, Dr. Taormina added.

Center for Disease Control Recommendations

•Use an Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535, which are safe for children and pregnant women.
•Wear long sleeves and pants when the weather permits.
•Keep mosquitoes outside by using air conditioning and/or window and door screens.

More than 1,400 pregnant women have been diagnosed with Zika in the U.S. and their physicians are carefully tracking the outcome of their pregnancies. So far, more than 1,000 pregnancies have been recorded, with five babies lost and 43 experiencing birth defects.

“Those figures are less than what we had initially feared,” said Dr. Taormina, “but we also need long-term data to establish what happens to children who do not exhibit symptoms at birth.”

Prevention is a population health concern. Even if family planning is not a current consideration, avoiding mosquito bites will help stop the spread of Zika, a blood-borne illness that infected humans can transmit to others through vector mosquitos.