State health officials urge spring-break travelers to use caution against the Zika virus

State officials are warning spring-break travelers to take precautions against the Zika virus if they are traveling to areas where the virus has been identified. Specifically, they are encouraging travelers to take steps to prevent mosquito bites, advising against unprotected sex and warning pregnant women to not travel to these areas

“This is the time of year that universities, school districts and other organizations observe spring break and many Kentuckians will be traveling for vacation or mission and service trips,” Health Commissioner Hiram Polk said in the news release. “If that is the case, we urge you to research the area in which you’ll be traveling. If Zika has been documented in the area, make sure you take appropriate steps to prevent mosquito bites.”

Detailed information about Zika infected areas can be found on  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers’ Health Website http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/

Advice to avoid the Zika virus when travelling:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed skin. Wear socks that cover the ankles and lower legs. 
  • Use  EPA-approved repellents such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Reapply as directed.
  • Apply sunscreen before insect repellent if using both. 
  • Do not use insect repellents on babies under two months of age. Instead, dress your baby in clothing that covers the arms and legs, or cover crib, stroller, or carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin. Do not use permethrin directly on your skin. 
  • Pregnant women should postpone travel to areas with Zika virus transmission. 
Also, if you are planning to get pregnant and are traveling to a Zika virus-affected location, you should talk to your provider before going to discuss the risk and options available, the release says.  

To keep travelers from spreading the virus when they return home, the health department reminds travelers to wear mosquito repellent for three weeks after returning, so as not to infect other mosquitoes that could bite others and to wear condoms during any sexual activity to prevent any sexual transmission of the virus.

The CDC recommends women should use condoms for at least eight weeks and men for at least six months after potential exposure, noting that those who are pregnant should use condoms throughout the pregnancy.

Increasing scientific evidence suggests a link between infection in pregnant women and infants born with birth defects such as microcephaly, a condition where the head is smaller than normal and is likely to be associated with significant nervous-system abnormalities and life-long complications.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, joint pain, red inflamed eyes, or other acute symptoms, though many who are infected never show symptoms. Travelers with these symptoms should consult with their medical provider within two weeks of returning to the state. Currently there is no vaccine to prevent Zika infection.

Kentucky has had 35 confirmed cases of Zika virus, all of which involved contracting the illness while traveling to Zika-infected areas.

For further information or to sign up for health alerts visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov/zika or the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/zika. To get the CDC Zika text updates, text PLAN to 855-255-5606.  In Kentucky, follow KYHealthAlerts on Twitter or @martymosquito on Instagram.

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