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Pregnant women travelling to Florida may wish to reconsider journey, says expert

Tropical disease specialist Siobhan Grehan advises that only pregnant women and those planning to conceive should be concerned.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

AN EXPERT IN tropical medicine has said pregnant women thinking of travelling to Florida may wish to reconsider their plans, after 14 cases of Zika were confirmed in the US state.

Florida officials announced the first locally transmitted cases of Zika in the United States on Friday, with all four linked to the same area in Miami. It was announced yesterday that the number of cases had jumped by 10 to 14.

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes or through sexual contact with a person who is infected with the virus. It results in flu-like symptoms. However, the virus is also linked to a type of birth defect known as microcephaly.

Zika had previously only been associated with the Caribbean Islands and South America, stretching from Mexico to Argentina. Some athletes, such as Rory McIlroy, have pulled out of this year’s Olympics in Brazil due to concerns about contracting the virus.

Advice

Speaking on Morning Ireland today, Siobhan Grehan of the Tropical Medical Bureau said that only those who are pregnant or planning to conceive should be concerned about travelling to Florida.

The advice is really only to women who are pregnant or planning to conceive so if you are planning to conceive and travelling to an area like Florida, then you need to sit down and think about it. “Is this a risk I want to take?” “Is this something I want to be concerned about for the next few months?”

“It’s important to remember that the Zika virus is a very mild illness that’s been around since the ’40s or ’50s… The issue is when it comes to pregnancy. In medical circles we always, always err on the side of caution.”

Grehan added it’s important to keep the issue in perspective. “We are talking about pregnant women and women planning to conceive, that they need to take care. But there’s lots of other things they need to be taking care about because viral diseases and pregnancy have never gone well together.

We vaccinate against German Measles, we vaccinate against flu, we vaccinate against whooping cough, we’re careful about what pregnant women eat. So it’s just another one to add to the list of precautionary notes for pregnancy, and important to keep it in perspective.

Symptoms

Grehan pointed out that for every five people who have the disease, only one person will have symptoms. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache. The symptoms are generally mild, and people usually don’t get sick enough that they need to go to the hospital.

Once a person has been infected with Zika, they are often immune from further infections.

Birth defects linked with Zika include babies being born than smaller than normal heads and malformed brains. This can lead to seizures, vision problems and developmental disabilities.

Avoiding contracting the virus

Grehan said that those travelling to Zika affected areas should try to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes by wearing long sleeved, light-coloured clothing and using a mosquito repellent with a chemical in it.

She pointed out that if you are worried about having contracted the virus, you can get a blood test to check.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs says:

Our travel advice for Florida is the same as for travel to any affected area: women who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant should consider postponing their travel.

The HSE’s disease agency urged men to wear a condom for at least one month after returning from a country affected by Zika as the virus can be passed through sexual contact.

The World Health Organisation now recommends practicing safe sex or abstained for at least eight weeks after returning from an infected area. This rises to six months if the person has experienced Zika symptoms.

An article in Nature Microbiology predicts that 93.4 million people may catch the virus — including some 1.65 million pregnant women.

Read: Pregnant women warned to stay away from this Miami neighbourhood as Zika spreads

Read: First American-born cases of Zika confirmed in Florida

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Elizabeth O'Malley

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