More than 4,000 Zika infections linked to travel have been reported in the continental United States since it became a global health emergency in February 2016. About 180 Zika cases have been locally acquired since mosquitoes began spreading the virus in Miami, Florida, this summer. Brownsville, Texas, became the second place in the continental U.S. to report local Zika transmission in November 2016.
Zika virus primarily spreads through infected mosquitoes, but it also can be sexually transmitted. Although the World Health Organization no longer considers the virus an international emergency, it still considers it a significant public health challenge. It's important to know about this emerging risk. Doctors have confirmed that Zika can cause serious birth defects in children born to women who became infected while pregnant. Here are the top five things your ministry should know about Zika.
1. Zika causes birth defects. Zika causes mild, flu-like symptoms in most people, but infection with Zika during pregnancy can result in babies developing microcephaly, a condition associated with severe brain damage. Before mission travel, learn about the Zika virus, check current travel notices, and consider buying supplemental medical insurance.
2. Pregnant women should avoid Zika exposure. Pregnant women shouldn’t travel to areas affected by Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a pregnant woman must visit an area where the disease is being actively transmitted, she should guard against mosquito bites and get tested for the virus afterward, even if she has no Zika symptoms. Then, she should take enhanced precautions for the rest of the pregnancy, according to the CDC. The organization encourages men and women who have traveled to an area with Zika to wait at least eight weeks before trying to have a baby, and urges men who experience Zika symptoms to wait a full six months after their symptoms start.
3. Returning travelers can spread the virus. The Zika virus can live in a person’s blood for a week, even if the infected person shows no symptoms. When a mosquito bites someone, it picks up the virus. Then it bites other people, infecting them. Anyone from your ministry traveling to an outbreak area should cover exposed skin, use insect repellent, and take additional steps to avoid mosquito bites during travel. They should also use insect repellent for three weeks after returning home, according to the CDC. See a doctor for testing if you develop a mild fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes after possible Zika exposure.
4. Virus now active in U.S. In July 2016, a Miami neighborhood became the first place in the continental United States where mosquitoes began spreading Zika among people who hadn't traveled to an outbreak area. Brownsville, Texas, became the site of the second local transmission in November 2016. The type of mosquitoes that transmit Zika live throughout America, so the disease could spread to other states.If Zika becomes an issue locally, 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.
5. Stay informed. Researchers are learning more about this disease daily. Protect your ministry and its people by following the most current recommendations from leading organizations, such as the two below.
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