By Dr Olga Ilic
Zika infection is increasing worldwide. Australian travellers need to be aware. Zika virus can permanently damage the unborn child. Australian and International Guidelines recommend that pregnant women and those planning for pregnancy completely avoid travel to Zika areas. In fact, these guidelines recommend women avoid pregnancy for 8 weeks. Men should avoid falling pregnant with their partner for 6 months after leaving a Zika affected area.
Zika infection is transmitted through mosquito bites. Only 1 in 5 people who acquire Zika will feel sick, often with a mild flu-like illness. Of real concern, however is Zika virus in the
pregnant women. It causes a high rate of birth deformities in their babies such as a small head/brain, neurological damage, visual impairment and joint/muscular problems.
Zika virus can be spread to pregnant women through mosquito bites but also more rarely sexually from their partner. In fact, a man who has had Zika virus can spread the virus in his semen for up to 6 months. For this reason men should use condoms for 6 months after travel to a Zika area. Protected sexual contact with a pregnant women and avoiding
conception with a women for 6 months after travel to a Zika area is recommended. If a woman has had possible exposure through recent travel or if their partner has recently
travelled it is recommended they avoid unprotected sex for 8 weeks after travel.
Zika virus has recently spread to many parts of the world. Historically for many years it was present in Asia and Africa. More recently there have been epidemics in the Pacific Islands and Central/South America. For a more detailed and up to date listing of affected countries please refer to the Australian Department of Health website – List of Zika virus affected countries.
To prevent acquisition of Zika virus while travelling, protect yourself against mosquito bites by covering up and using insect repellent. Also protect yourself against sexual transmission with safe sex. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus.
Although there have been sporadic cases of Zika virus in Australia these have all been in travellers who have brought Zika back with them. No local transmission through our
mosquitoes has been documented as yet.
If you have returned from travelling in a Zika affected area and are pregnant or concerned you may have had Zika, there are tests available which can be done to assess your risk.
Please talk to your doctor about this.