Pregnant women (and their partners) traveling to Zika affected areas should take precautions
BATON ROUGE— Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has historically circulated in parts of Africa and the Pacific region, but in 2015 emerged in the Americas. While first identified in Brazil, Zika has spread to over 60 countries in South and Central America, as well as parts of Mexico. The emergence of the virus has been linked to an alarming increase in microcephaly in Brazil. Rebecca Christofferson, MApSt (LSU 2005), PhD (LSU 2011), assistant professor in Pathobiological Sciences, with the Vector-borne Disease Laboratory at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying Zika since before the outbreaks occurred.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has put a level 2 warning for areas where Zika is currently circulating, indicating that enhanced precautions should be practiced to avoid mosquito bites. This includes wearing permethrin treated clothing where possible, wearing long pants and sleeves, and wearing a mosquito repellent containing DEET. The primary mosquito that transmits this virus is Ae. aegypti, which likes dense urban areas and bites during the day. Another potential secondary vector, Ae. albopictus, is also found in urban areas, but also in peri-urban and semi-rural areas, and also bites during the day. Thus, precautions should be taken both in and out of urban areas while traveling to areas known to have the virus.
Pregnant women, especially in the first trimester, should avoid travel to affected areas. Men who travel to these areas should also be aware that Zika virus can persist in semen up to two months, perhaps longer. Most people who get Zika do not show symptoms, so it is important that men who have pregnant partners or who are trying to conceive talk to a healthcare provide prior to engaging in unprotected sex. Sexual transmission occurs from males to their partners, so male travelers should be aware that they may pass the virus on to their partners even if they are not showing symptoms. Seek advice from a medical professional on how to proceed, including potential testing of semen for evidence of the virus.
First identified in the late 1940s in Uganda, Zika expansion has followed a similar path as chikungunya virus, another virus Dr. Christofferson studies, which also emerged in the Americas in 2013-2014. Though Zika is related to dengue, which is endemic to Central and South America and some parts of the Caribbean, it does not cause (usually) hemorrhagic manifestations. However, it is known to cross-react with your immune system if you’ve had dengue before. Dr. Christofferson and her laboratory are currently investigating what this cross-reaction might mean in terms of enhanced disease or protection upon subsequent exposure of one virus after another. Dr. Christofferson is also interested in determining what factors are most impactful to the successful emergence and continue transmission of Zika and other arboviruses.
To learn more about the Zika virus, or necessary precautions one should take if traveling to Zika affected areas, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/zika/.
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