The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Jan. 15, that it has issued an advisory for people against traveling to several Caribbean and Latin American countries affected by the recent spread of the Zika virus (ZIKV).

The countries and territories covered by the travel alert are Colombia, French Guiana, El Salvador, Haiti, Guatemala, Martinique, Honduras, Panama, Suriname, Paraguay, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico.

According to the CDC, the decision to declare the advisory was made based on reports from Brazil where cases of microcephaly and other developmental problems in infants were linked to mothers who were infected with the ZIKV during pregnancy.

The federal agency, however, stressed that further studies are needed to clearly establish the relationship between the Zika virus and birth defects in newborn babies.

While such studies are being undertaken and as a form of precautionary measure, the CDC strongly advises pregnant women and those who are planning to become pregnant to take all necessary steps to protect themselves from contracting the disease.

The travel alert states that expectant mothers in any trimester should consider foregoing travel to countries where transmission of the ZIKV has been identified.

If travel to these areas is unavoidable, pregnant women should consult their doctor first and follow protective measures to avoid getting bitten by a Zika virus-carrying mosquito during their trip.

Those who are planning to become pregnant should also talk to their healthcare provider before entering affected areas and follow steps to avoid mosquito bites while traveling.

The CDC said that it will update its travel alert depending on incoming information regarding specific areas affected by the Zika virus outbreak. People are advised to check the agency's website to receive up-to-date recommendations.

How To Avoid Bites From Virus-Carrying Mosquitoes

As of the moment, there is no known vaccine to prevent or cure Zika infection. People affected by the disease often suffer only mild symptoms, which do not require any hospitalization. The illness goes away on its own after several days to about a week.

Those traveling to areas where there is an ongoing Zika virus transmission are advised to do the following to protect themselves from mosquito bites:

1. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants especially when going outdoors.

2. Apply EPA-registered insect repellents on exposed skin. Use products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), picaridin, DEET, or IR3535.

Pregnant and nursing women and children beyond 2 months old can use products with DEET, picaridin, and IR3535. Children below 3 years old, on the other hand, should not be given products with OLE.

3. Use clothing and gear permethrin-treated.

4. Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Aside from these steps, the CDC is also coordinating with health experts from the Health and Human Services department (HHS) to develop additional ways to prevent transmission of the Zika virus.

Impact Of The Zika Virus On Newborn Babies

In Brazil, researchers are trying to identify a potential link between the Zika virus and a sudden increase in the number of infants being born with microcephaly.

From the 147 microcephaly cases recorded in 2014, the number swelled to more than 2,400 in 2015, which is the same year when the ZIKV was first detected in the country.

Local doctors said a majority of mothers who gave birth to babies with microcephaly experienced symptoms of ZIKV infection during the early part of pregnancy, such as headaches, rash and mild fever.

Infants born with microcephaly typically have abnormally small heads and other serious development problems, which can cause early death.

Photo: Mahalie Stackpole | Flickr 

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