Zika virus.. things you need to know

We get a lot of questions from passengers about the Zika virus. “How can I prevent infection while traveling?”. “Does it affect my travel plans?”. KLM Health Services is following the mosquitosituation closely and presents some information here, based on international reliable sources. But first, let me explain what this mosquito-born virus is.

The Zika virus, abbreviated to ZIKV, is from the same family of viruses as the Dengue virus. ZIKV was first identified in 1947 in certain monkeys in the Zika Forest in Uganda, hence its name. In 1962 it was proven that ZIKV can also cause illness in humans. There are indications that ZIKV may have a relation with certain neurological birth defects (Microcephaly), when the mother becomes infected with Zika during pregnancy. The scientific evidence for this relation is still incomplete and on the total number of Zikavirus infections his complication is rare.

Even more rare, and also still lacking scientific evidence, is the supposed link between Zikavirus infection and some neurological conditions (Guillain-Barré syndrome).

Where is ZIKV occurring at the moment?

The Zika virus is currently found in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. The situation is changing all the time and the WHO (World Health Organization) expects the epidemic to spread to other areas.

If you would like up-to-date information about where ZIKV is currently being found, follow this link:http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/zika_virus_infection/

How do you become infected with the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is transmitted through bites from the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that carries Dengue and Chikungunya. These mosquitos are usually active during daylight hours and often live in buildings in urban areas. It is also possible, though much more rare, for a foetus to contract the virus in the womb if the mother has become infected with Zika during the pregnancy.

What are the symptoms?

A Zika virus infection is generally mild. It is estimated that 75% of people who become infected with ZIKV experience no symptoms (i.e. a high rate of asymptomatic infection). Symptoms, if they occur, are one or more of the following:

  • Sudden onset with fever.
  • Muscle and joint pain (often in hands and feet).
  • Skin rash (often starting in the face and spreading).
  • Conjuctivitis.
  • Headache (especially “behind the eyes”).
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and/or diarrhoea.
  • People infected with the Zika virus generally recover without treatment and without any serious lingering symptoms. The number of people who have died of the Zika virus is very low.

The incubation time for ZIKV has not been clearly established, but is probably between three and 12 days.

Is there a treatment for the Zika virus?

No, there are no medicines available specifically to treat the Zika virus. They are also unnecessary, because people recover spontaneously from the virus. Only in the event of (possible) complications might it be necessary to carry out a targeted investigation to provide specific treatment.

There is up untill now no vaccine for ZIKV available.

Can I become reinfected if I have already had ZIKV?

As far as known anyone knows, a Zika virus infection leads to lifelong immunity. In other words, once you have had the Zika virus, it is very unlikely you will catch it again.

Can I still get pregnant if I have had the Zika virus?

As far as is known, you can. If you should become infected with the Zikavirus, the virus will be cleared from your body within a period of three weeks. And if cleared from the virus, there is no risk anymore for the unborn child. However, in case of doubt or questions: always consult your doctor.

Is there an infection risk in the Netherlands?

The Zika virus has been confirmed in a number of patients in the Netherlands. But all were infected in countries with Zikavirus. The Netherlands is free from Zika, and it is highly unlikely that anyone will contract the virus in the Netherlands from mosquitos entering the country by plane or in cargo arriving from a Zika-infected area.

Does the virus affect my travel plans?

If – and in what way – the current Zika virus outbreak may affect your travel plans depends on your health condition and on travel advise by (inter)national organizations and governments. In general, there is no restriction on travel to Zikavirus areas. When in good health and not pregnant, there is no obvious medical reason for changing your travel plans, as long as you comply with the recommended preventive measures.

However, if you are pregnant or might become pregnant while visiting Zikavirus areas, you might take into account the travel advise of WHO and your own government. Knowledge of the Zikavirus and its characteristics is growing rapidly, and as a result preventive advise will change with it. Therefore, if pregnant, please follow reliable sources (such as WHO and your government) and consult your doctor well before visiting Zikavirus areas.

How can I protect myself against the Zika virus?

Protection against a Zika virus infection comes down to preventing mosquito bites. Here are the general guidelines:

  • Take good anti-mosquito precautions, especially during the day.
  • Wear long clothes (preferably light-coloured) as much as possible (long sleeves, long trousers, socks and closed shoes).
  • Use a reliable repellent (anti-mosquito lotion or stick): carefully follow the instructions on the product leaflet.
  • Hotel room: Keep your hotel room mosquito free (keep windows closed, only open them if there are good screens, use air conditioning to keep the room cool.).
  • Mosquito nets: if it is not possible to sleep in a room that is free of mosquitos, take an impregnated mosquito net with you (i.e. one treated with an insect repellent, such as permethrin).
  • If you become ill with a fever within two weeks of returning from a Zika-infected area, always consult a doctor.

Pregnant?

For women who are pregnant or possibly pregnant, the following general advice applies for destinations where the Zika virus occurs:

  • If you are (possibly) pregnant, consider whether your journey to the Zika-infected area is necessary and perhaps postpone your trip.
  • Carefully follow all the preventative measures given above.
  • Repellents: carefully check the product leaflet for recommendations on use during pregnancy and if in doubt: consult your doctor.
  • Pregnant or possibly pregnant women should always consult a doctor if they become ill with a fever within two weeks of visiting a ZIKV-infected destination.

Specific recommendations for pregnant women may differ between countries, so please check the recommendations issued by your own national public health authority.

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