Pregnant women planning to travel overseas from Australia are being warned to steer clear of countries with the Zika virus that can cause brain damage and severe birth defects in babies. And the stern government warning also extends to women who aren’t even pregnant yet, but hoping to have a baby soon.
The travel alert from the Australian Government comes as the World Health Organisation issues its own warning that Zika is “spreading explosively” across the globe and that four million people may be infected this year.
The government has urged Australian women who are already pregnant – or who are hoping to fall pregnant soon – to stay away from countries where the Zika virus is already wreaking havoc. This includes Brazil, which is due to host the Olympics in Rio this coming August.
Australian sporting officials are already warning female athletes of child-bearing age to take extra care in Rio.
“The health and wellbeing of all our team members is paramount, especially those females in the team of child bearing age,” Australia’s Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller tells the Daily Telegraph.
The Zika virus can significantly affect the health of an unborn baby if a pregnant woman is infected, including severe birth defects such as microcephaly, which is an abnormally small head, and poor brain development.
Recent outbreaks in Central and South America, particularly Brazil, have raised concerns about Zika virus and pregnancy after doctors noted an increase in babies born wih certain birth defects. Governments there are now warning women not to fall pregnant for the next 12 months.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease, which is transmitted by some species of Aedes mosquito, according to the World Health Organization. These mosquitoes bite in the day, particularly around dawn and dusk. The infection often occurs without symptoms but can cause fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain, and muscle or bone pain.
The WHO says key countries of concern include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Samoa and Venezuela.
The Australian Government says that until more is known about Zika virus, women who are pregnant (in any trimester) or who plan to become pregnant should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. If you do decide to travel, talk to your doctor first and follow strict steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
Women who are pregnant and have recently travelled to areas where there is the Zika virus should see a doctor if they have suffered an illness that they think might be Zika.
Mosquito bite prevention measures should be followed for travel to these areas, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, using insect repellents, using permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks and tents), using bed nets and staying and sleeping in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.
Visit the Smart Traveller website for further information and updates.