State health officials offer Zika prevention tips for travelers

This time of year, many Montanans will be traveling to and returning from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central or South America after enjoying some fun in the sun.
State and local public health officials are reminding Montanans these are also areas where mosquitos that carry Zika virus are active. 
Officials are reminding travelers to these areas to protect themselves from Zika virus and to take the necessary steps upon their return.
Risk of Zika infection, transmitted primarily by mosquitos and sometimes through sexual contact, can be minimized by following simple precautions when traveling to an affected area. Fortunately, Montana’s mosquitoes are not capable of spreading the Zika virus.
“Savvy travelers know that preparation is essential for a great trip, and today that involves bringing mosquito repellent, dressing to prevent bites and using condoms if you are planning to have sex,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) epidemiologist Christine Mulgrew. 
Most people who get infected by Zika virus will not get sick. Although rare, severe complications have been linked to Zika virus infection. Of primary concern are the cluster of birth defects that occurs in about 4% of babies whose mothers had a Zika infection during their pregnancy. Pregnant women and women wanting to become pregnant are advised to avoid traveling to regions where Zika infected mosquitos are common. 
Public health officials state that pregnant women who traveled to an area with Zika are recommended to have a Zika test performed upon return, even if no symptoms occurred. Just like any medical test, the Zika test needs to be ordered by a healthcare provider. Testing at the Montana Public Health Department Laboratory is available at a minimal cost for all pregnant women who may be at risk of Zika. To date, no Montana pregnant woman has had a positive Zika test.
Since the identification of Zika in the Americas, over 200 Montanans returning from trips have sought testing for Zika. Of these, 10 Montana residents were diagnosed with a Zika infection after visiting a country where Zika infected mosquitos are common. They were diagnosed by their health care provider after developing symptoms of Zika infection that included rash, fever, arthralgia and red eyes. 
“If you have these symptoms during or after your trip, see your healthcare provider to get a Zika test,” Mulgrew said.
Although not common, Zika virus infection can be transmitted to sexual partners. If you have traveled to an area with Zika, use condoms for at least 8 weeks (women) or 6 months (men) after travel to protect your sex partners from Zika.  If you have traveled to an area with Zika and have a pregnant partner, use condoms correctly every time you have sex, or do not have sex for the entire pregnancy.
The primary way to prevent Zika infection while vacationing is to use an EPA registered insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites.  Zika virus is carried by certain species of Aedes mosquitos.  These mosquitoes tend to thrive in warmer and wetter climates than in Montana.  They are aggressive, bite in the day and night, and can live indoors as well as outdoors.
For more information on Zika and how to protect yourself, visit the DPHHS Zika website at www.dphhs.mt.gov

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