The fear of a mosquito bite need not cancel your mission trip. Most people who catch the Zika virus never get sick, but you need to be careful when traveling to areas affected by Zika. Follow these tips to protect yourself.
1. Identify outbreak areas.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory about traveling to Latin America and several common mission destinations: Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Check with the U.S. State Department for updates. Now more than 1,600 Zika infections linked to travel have been reported in the continental Untied States, and mosquitoes in Miami, Florida, are transmitting the virus locally. If Zika becomes an issue to your mission trip destination, your ministry may need to modify outdoor activities to guard against mosquito bites. Pregnant women and couples trying to become pregnant face the greatest risk.
2. Unborn babies are at risk.
The Zika virus has been linked to a birth defect that impairs brain development and can be sexually transmitted. Take precautions if someone on your team is pregnant or trying to conceive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, pregnant women shouldn’t travel to areas affected by Zika. If a pregnant woman must visit an affected area, she should guard against mosquito bites and get tested for the virus afterward, even if she has no Zika symptoms. Then, she should take advanced precautions for the rest of the pregnancy, according to the CDC.
3. Avoid mosquito bites.
The Zika virus is spread by infectious mosquito bites. There is no vaccine, currently, although NIAID is researching and developing one. Without a vaccine, prevention makes the best option to avoid the Zika virus. Here are some ways you can prevent mosquito bites in Zika-infected regions:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Treat clothing with permethrin.
- Apply insect repellant repeatedly.
- Stay in screened rooms.
- Sleep with a mosquito net if screens are inadequate.
Pro tip: Check out these helpful items to pack for mosquito-ridden regions.
4. See a doctor for flu-like symptoms.
While most people infected with Zika experience no symptoms, you should be aware of the signs. Tell a doctor if you experience the following:
- Joint pain
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
Explain where you have traveled and avoid taking aspirin or ibuprofen. Use acetaminophen for fever or pain, and prevent additional mosquito bites to avoid spreading the disease.
5. Consider travel insurance.
Don’t learn the hard way that your health insurance works only in America. Before departing, consider buying travel medical insurance. Some plans can cover your entire trip, including emergency medical evacuation, for $30.
6. Stay informed.
Recommendations may change as researchers learn more about the Zika virus. Find current travel information here:
(8.29.16) Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 11, 2016, but has since been updated for accuracy.