IN OCTOBER, I will be traveling to Florida for a dragon boat competition and then going on a 7-day cruise to the Bahamas.
Rough life, I know…
But recently, there have been more incidences of Zika in Florida and Bahamas. The CDC posted…
“The Florida Department of Health has identified an area in one neighborhood of Miami where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes.”
Fortunately, I’ll be in Orlando, not Miami, but am still concerned about my exposure… especially since I will be paddling near bodies of water.
When I asked my girlfriend and colleague for advise on the topic, her response surprised me,
“Would you be okay if your baby had microencephaly?”
There are many dangers in traveling to areas with high chances of infection. However, when it comes to babies, the fear is multiplied as you are making a decision on behalf of a small being unable to care for itself.
But there is also danger in anything you do.
Every time you cross the street (especially if your head is buried down playing Pokemon), or when you get on a train, or go camping there are some risk.
As a health practitioner you are hyper-aware of health concerns. And as a person who sees the hype of Zika from the Olymipics and living in Costa Rica, I’m more heightened to many of the fears.
The changes of Zika are low (but not defined), while the potential harm is great.
What is Zika?
The Zika virus is passed through sexual transmission and via an infected Aedes species mosquito.
People infected by Zika can show fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, however 18% of Zika carriers don’t have any symptoms at all. The symptoms are often mild, last less than 1 week, and don’t cause harm to adults, but they can lead to physical deformities to a fetus of a pregnant woman.
Birth defects most notably include microcephaly, which is an underdeveloped brain, but also other brain damages and conditions (ie. Eye defects, hearing loss, impaired growth, and fetal loss).
Microcephaly is clinically diagnosed as a head circumference (HC) at birth is less than the 3rd percentile for gestational age and sex.
However, according to the CDC, positive Zika pregnant women don’t always cause their fetus to have microcephaly or other disorders. At this point, studies aren’t clear as to how often a baby will have birth defects from a Zika infected woman while she is pregnant.
An infected pregnant woman can pass the Zika virus to her infant during pregnancy but also at time of birth. Even an exposed woman of child-bearing age is recommended to wait 8 weeks before trying to conceive.
Meanwhile, an infected male (with symptoms) should wait 6 months before conceiving or having sex without a condom because the Zika virus has been shown to live longer in semen than in other body fluids.
Currently there are no treatments or vaccines for the Zika virus.
With all the scares at the Olympics in Rio, Brazil, many news outlets are increasing the exposure and fear of Zika. I personally know a family from North America who just had a very healthy baby girl in Costa Rica. She conceived, spent her entire pregnancy and labored in Costa Rica without any worry and problems.
So where is that line? Where does reasonable logic and risk meets emotional fear?
Do I not travel for fear that something might go wrong with my potential pregnancy?
How much do I want to allow fear, as reasonable as it may be, to dictate my life?
If I do decide to go on our cruise to the Bahamas, I try to practice mosquito bite protective practices as much as possible:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants at night
- Stay and sleep in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
- Wear bug repellent
- Avoid the jungle or dense mosquito areas
- Use condoms during our trip
What to do?
If you believe you have been infected with the Zika virus, contact a health official, call 770-488-7100 or email ZIKAMCH@cdc.gov.