The 2016 Summer Olympics are just a few months away, and Brazil, the host country is currently facing a serious health crisis. You may have heard of it: the Zika epidemic.
This viral outbreak has triggered a number of health and safety concerns for those living in the country, and health organizations including the CDC and WHO (World Health Organization), have issued travel warnings for people visiting Brazil for the Olympic Games.
As a travel medicine specialist, I understand how important it is for people to scratch that “trip of a lifetime” off their bucket list; I just don’t want them to kick the bucket doing it! I’ve sent clients to every corner of the globe to participate in various expeditions, excursions, and ‘round the world treks. Regardless, when it comes to disease outbreaks like this one, it can be tough to prepare for every possible scenario.
First, it is imperative that travelers to Brazil have all of the knowledge and resources necessary to prevent water, airborne, and insect-related illnesses. While there is no foolproof way to avoid the Zika virus, there are things spectators and Olympic athletes can do to reduce their risk of acquiring or transmitting the disease. Before diving into some of these health tips, there are a few things people should know about the virus itself.
What is the Zika virus?
Zika is a virus that is transmitted to humans by the bite of mosquitoes infected with the bug. The Zika virus has occasionally occurred in parts of Africa in the past, but began circulating in South America in January 2014. It has spread rapidly since then, and (as of May 26, 2016) the CDC reports the Zika virus is now endemic in 48 different countries. Mosquitoes carrying this disease have been reported in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
Most people do not experience symptoms from a Zika infection; however, some patients infected with the virus will experience a fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and joint pain that lasts 2 to 7 days. The real danger is that researchers have also found that pregnant women infected with Zika can pass it onto their unborn children, which can result in a serious birth defect called microcephaly.
Is there a cure for Zika?
Currently, there is no cure for Zika nor is there a vaccine yet available to help reduce a person’s chance of becoming infected. If someone becomes ill with a Zika infection, their physician may suggest symptomatic treatment until the infection is cleared by the body’s immune system.
What can I do to reduce my risk of getting Zika?
There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of getting the Zika virus. The most important is to take steps to prevent getting bit by mosquitoes in the first place. Using insect repellent, covering exposed skin, and staying in hotels with air conditioning and good window and door screens can help prevent insect bites.
Someone infected with the virus can also transmit the disease to others through sexual contact. Anyone visiting an area with Zika risk is advised to use condoms or consider avoiding sexual activity with a partner who could become pregnant. Before traveling to Brazil, talk to your travel medicine specialist about your travel health risks and avoid becoming infected with the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses.
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