With cooler weather settling in, you might already be dreaming of a winter getaway to the tropics. Just one catch: you’re pregnant (or planning to be), so Zika hangs like a dark cloud over your otherwise sunny travel plans.
It’s startling to look at the World Map of Areas with risk of Zika infection. Most of South America is, of course, in the no-fly zone. As is Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. Even Florida and Texas have reported cases in the past. Australia is as yet unaffected, but it’s a long haul for most Canadian and US tourists. If I moonlighted as a travel agent, my tropical destination recommendation would be Hawaii. It’s one of the only places South of the United States where you can safely sport your bikini-clad baby bump or soak up some rays with a uterus eager for implantation— without concern for Zika virus infection.
Despite its far-reaching effects, Zika still seems to be greatly misunderstood. It’s a common source of questions in my office every week, especially from patients planning pregnancy in the near future. That’s why you should take a moment to educate yourself.
Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your unborn baby from Zika:
Zika is spread mainly through mosquitoes, so take precautions to prevent bites. Wear bug repellant with at least 20 percent DEET that is EPA-approved. DEET is safe for use in pregnancy. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and treat clothing and gear with permethrin. Stay indoors when possible (as nice as your hotel is, it’s probably not your reason for visiting the tropics) and use mosquito-netting (a sexy compliment to your new bikini, no?). Once home, continue to take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks so that you don’t risk local mosquito spread.
Zika can also be spread through sexual intercourse, so either use condoms or avoid sex (vaginal, anal and oral) while traveling to endemic areas, or with anyone who lives in these areas or has visited (see next tip for timeframes).
Play the waiting game
A woman should wait at least 8 weeks after travel (or intercourse with a person who lives in or has traveled to an endemic area) before trying to conceive. A man should wait at least 6 months.
Know the symptoms
Many people with Zika never develop symptoms, which is why it is so important to take precautions even if you don’t feel sick. Symptoms, when they do occur, can include fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes. There is also a rare condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome that can also occur with Zika. It manifests as muscle weakness and paralysis, and if you develop these symptoms you should seek immediate medical attention.
Be a tattle tale
If you have recently travelled, or have had unprotected sex with someone who has traveled to, or lived in a Zika-infested area, tell your doctor. If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor even if you don’t have symptoms. He or she may recommend you get tested.
So, tell your sister you can’t be at her destination wedding. And nope, your husband can’t go to his friend’s bachelor party in Myrtle Beach. Have a staycation, or pack your bags and head to one of the Hawaiian Islands—there you can enjoy beautiful beaches, tropical weather, and malasadas without shattering your dreams of pregnancy bliss.
Dr. Jessica Ross is a family and ER physician who regularly speaks with expectant mothers concerned about how Zika will affect their babymoon. She is the author behind the health and lifestyle blog, Little Black Bag.