The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) cautions travelers, especially women who are pregnant, headed to countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, among others. (CDC Zika Travel Information).
No locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in Georgia or anywhere in the United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently testing specimens from several Georgia residents with travel history to the affected areas.
There are urgent concerns about Zika virus infection and pregnant women. Zika virus infections have been confirmed in infants with microcephaly and in the current outbreak in Brazil, a marked increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly has been reported. Pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant should not travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who have traveled to these areas should consult their physician immediately. Health care providers should ask all pregnant women about recent travel.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. Zika virus is not spread human to human. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. Most people infected with Zika virus never know they are sick.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Travelers should check CDC travel advisories for their destinations and take precautions to protect themselves from mosquitos:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535 (use as directed)
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents)
- Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms
The number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase. These imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the country, including Georgia.
“It is extremely important that individuals who have traveled to countries where there are on-going Zika virus outbreaks keep guard against additional mosquito bites,” said Cherie Drenzek, D.V.M, state epidemiologist for DPH. “During the first week or so of infection, Zika virus can be passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then transmit the virus to other people.”
Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito which can be found in Georgia. The mosquitos bite mostly during the daytime, they do not fly very far, and tend to live around homes. The mosquitos breed in containers so removing them or dumping out standing water at least once a week, or using larvicides such as mosquito dunks or mosquito torpedoes in water that cannot be dumped out, will reduce the number of these mosquitoes.