What Travelers Must Know About the Zika and Chikungunya Viruses?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Traveling is an incredible experience — seeing new sights and learning about many new cultures. One of the things to be alert for is viruses, such as Zika and Chikungunya. These are mosquito-transmitted viruses that started in Africa and Asia. They have since moved to the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Because the viruses are starting to move, it’s essential to be mindful of how they spread and ways to prevent getting them.

What Do I Need to Know About Zika Virus? 

You can get Zika through an infected bug bite. If you’re pregnant, you could also pass it down to your fetus. Coming down with Zika while pregnant can cause congenital disabilities like brain atrophy.

Other Zika virus symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain

Some people may experience mild symptoms lasting a few days to a week — or none at all. Most cases don’t result in hospitalization. If you develop any signs, seek a healthcare provider for a blood or urine test. 

Keep in mind there isn’t a medicine or vaccine for the Zika virus. You want to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and take medication to reduce your fever or pain. Avoid ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce your chances of bleeding. Eat a healthy diet with less processed meat to recover quicker.

How to Prevent Zika During Travel

First, ensure you’re not pregnant or plan to become pregnant since this is a risk factor. If you want to conceive, discuss the potential travel risks with your doctor. Avoid areas with high rates infection rates, such as tropical locations. There is no current local transmission of the Zika virus in the United States.

Also, prepare for mosquito bites since this is the primary form of transmission. Use plenty of insect repellent and wear long-sleeved clothing. You can also improve your lodging arrangement — keep bugs out with screened windows and doors.

In addition, run the air conditioner, empty the trash and dump anything that holds water. If you plan to go camping, sleep under a mosquito net for extra security. Zika does have the ability to spread through sex, so use protection if engaging in this activity.

To learn more information to stay protected, check out these online resources:

  • Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Zika reports
  • Emerging Infectious Diseases Zika spotlight
  • New England Journal of Medicine, Zika virus collection
  • BMJ site, Zika virus section
  • Elsevier Zika Virus Resource Center
  • Lancet Zika Virus Resource Center

What Do I Need to Know about Chikungunya Virus?

This virus also transmits through an infected mosquito. There have been outbreaks in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. Chikungunya virus symptoms are similar to Zika and include:

  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Joint swelling
  • Muscle pain

Most people who get infected can experience symptoms. The virus doesn’t often cause death. Most people recover in about three to 10 days, but joint pain can last months or even years. Newborns, older adults and those with medical conditions are at a higher risk.

Get tested if you have symptoms or visit an area where chikungunya may be present. Your provider will then schedule a blood test for a formal diagnosis. Like Zika, there is currently no vaccine or medicine — so getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated is crucial.

How to Prevent the Chikungunya Virus

When traveling, you want to prevent bug bites through insect repellent. If you’re going on a hike in a woodsy area, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants that cover your ankles. Be sure to tuck in any tops or socks to cover exposed areas.

Select lighter color clothes and mild scents to stand out less. Also, try to find a flashlight that won’t attract bugs. Many mosquitoes like to come out at dawn or evening, so it’s helpful to find lighting that doesn’t catch their attention at peak feeding times.

Blood transmission of chikungunya is also possible. So, if you’re helping a sick person, be careful not to touch bodily fluids. Also, minimize areas to places where recent outbreaks have occurred, such as Bangladesh. Do some additional reading about the virus before you go on a trip. There are plenty of online resources you can view from the convenience of your phone or computer.

Here are a few to consider checking out:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Yellow Book 
  • Chikungunya fact sheet by the World Health Organization
  • Pan American Health Organization fact sheet 
  • Epidemiology Resource Center from the Indiana Department of Health 

Once you are home, continue to take preventive measures to avoid mosquito bites. Take these precautions even if you don’t have symptoms — it will reduce your chances of spreading chikungunya and Zika to mosquitoes back home.

How to Keep Kids Safe While Traveling 

Kids may not understand the risks of these diseases, so explain the virus and how to prevent it before heading out on the trip. Speak in a calm, reassuring tone and use straightforward explanations and answer any questions they may have. While on the trip, remind them to use insect repellent and reapply it throughout the day.

If you’re traveling with a baby, cover their stroller with mosquito netting. You could use Environmental Protection Agency-selected repellents that are better for the environment. Keep these chemicals out of children’s eyes and mouths by applying the product to your hand and rubbing it on to protect your child’s face.

Additionally, you should take the time to keep your child’s immune system robust and working as efficiently as possible. Even though you want to prevent them from getting sick at all, it’s vital to take precautionary measures like these to ensure they can get over any virus quickly.

Safe Travel Tips to Help Avoid Zika and Chikungunya

Going on vacation is always fun during the summer. But, maintaining your health and protection is vital to preventing Zika and Chikungunya virus symptoms. Learn how to protect yourself against mosquito bites to ensure you and any others have a safe and fun trip.

Beth, the Managing Editor at Body+Mind, is well-respected in the fitness and nutrition spaces. In her spare time, Beth enjoys going for runs and cooking.

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