Although a lot has changed since the Zika outbreak in 2015-16, Zika is still a concern for some travelers.
What’s Changed with Zika Since 2015-16?
The good news is that there were no reported cases of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in the continental U.S. in 2018 or 2019. There are also several clinical trials in progress that are investigating a vaccine, according to Dr. Ashley Lipps, an infectious disease physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. But currently, there is no specific antiviral medication that has proven to be successful.
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, advises that “the circulation of the virus has gone down since its peak in this hemisphere [Western] as so many were infected in the first waves, that immunity in the population is high.
It will continue to be a threat in the future though as the requisite mosquito populations are in place in many areas and there is no vaccine.” He also notes that vaccine development is ongoing but could take years.
Last year, the CDC updated its labeling system so you can tell if a country either has a current Zika outbreak, has ever reported Zika cases (past or current), has a low likelihood of Zika infection because of high elevation, has a mosquito type that carries Zika but no Zika cases, or has no mosquitos that spread Zika.
Zika Travel Recommendations by Traveler Type and Country Category
Know before you go! Zika continues to be a problem in many parts of the world. There is no vaccine to prevent infection. Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.
Your decision to delay or cancel travel is personal and complex. In making this decision, consider your travel destination and your ability to protect yourself from mosquito bites. CDC recommends that pregnant women and couples planning a pregnancy within the next 3 months consult with a health care provider in making this decision.
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I Have Travel Plans to an Area That Had/Has Reported Zika Cases …
If you’re healthy and not currently pregnant, there is no reason for you to avoid travel to a destination that at one point in time reported local transmission of Zika.
However, it’s recommended that you take certain precautions, like mosquito-bite prevention and having only protected sex, both during and after your travels. There is currently no vaccine or medication for the virus, so mosquito-bite prevention is key.
Using EPA-registered insect repellents, covering exposed skin, wearing light-colored clothing, sleeping inside or in screened-in rooms, and wearing pre-treated clothing and gear can help prevent bites.
Currently, the only travel notice from the CDC is a Level 2 – Practice Enhanced Precautions warning for travelers to areas with a Zika outbreak (red areas on the map). As of January 2020, there are no areas with a current Zika outbreak.
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Where Can You Go If You Want to Avoid Zika in 2020?
There are still plenty of vacation-worthy destinations to visit if you’re looking to travel somewhere without any reported Zika cases. Tourist hot spots that don’t have the type of mosquito that carries Zika include Alaska, Bermuda, Morocco, Canary Islands, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Chile, Azores, Seychelles, and most of Europe.
Dr. Spangler recommends that “For those who want to exercise the utmost in caution, I would advise that they avoid the Caribbean, South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia.”
He also notes that “conditions have certainly improved in each of the countries with recent Zika cases; the risk is just not what it was four years ago … by way of comparison, cases of other insect-borne viruses, like Dengue fever or Chikungunya, are more numerous, now, than Zika cases.”
Dr. Kacey Ernst, Associate Professor and Program Director at the University of Arizona’s Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department adds, “Think about the specific areas and times you want to travel to better assess your risk.
Higher-altitude areas tend to have fewer mosquitoes. In addition, check out the season: Is it during or near the rainy season? That is often when the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses is highest.
Try to get rooms on higher floors if possible, and check the screens on the windows or just keep them closed to avoid bringing the mosquitos in the room. It is important to note that Ae. aegypti likes being around people and is quite happy to live inside as well as outside. Even in areas where Zika is no longer being transmitted, the Ae. aegypti mosquito can also transmit dengue and chikungunya.”