By Kelly Youngblood
While reports of the Zika virus spreading globally are running rampant throughout the news media, local health officials tell us the risk isn’t very high closer to home.
“There is minimal concern at this time for residents of Champaign County,” said Awais Vaid, an epidemiologist at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Although the chances are slim for a person to contract the Zika virus in the Champaign-Urbana area right now, certain precautions should still be taken if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Dr. Franklyn Christensen, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Carle Hospital, said while the risk is low, pregnant women or those trying to conceive should pay attention to the CDC’s list of places to avoid travel.
Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic are among the countries pregnant women should consider postponing travel to.
The Zika virus is spread through a bite from an infected mosquito. About one in five people infected with Zika virus become ill. Symptoms are usually mild and can include fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis. Some cases may be severe with complications.
Anyone can contract the virus, but the real risk is for microcephaly in unborn babies, Christensen said.
According to the CDC website, “there have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant.”
Christensen noted that unborn babies are not always affected if the mother contracts the Zika virus.
There are still a lot of unknowns about the Zika virus at this time but Vaid said it’s best to take precautions.
“It is always better to err on the side of caution and follow the CDC recommendations to avoid potential risks,” he said.
“Defer travel to countries that have been identified with widespread disease. If you have standing water or puddles and pools of water around your house, which creates an environment for mosquitoes to breed, you should get rid of it. Apply insect repellent when outdoors, especially in spring and summer,” Vaid added.
Christensen said as the weather warms up, it will be important to stay up to date on where the virus spreads.
If women who are pregnant or trying to conceive must travel to areas on the CDC’s warning list, Christensen recommends they take the following steps:
- Apply insect repellent as directed on the product to them and their family. Repellent with DEET is safe when pregnant.
- When also using sunscreen, apply that first and then the insect repellent.
- Wear long sleeves and pants to reduce exposure to mosquitoes.
- Use mosquito netting while sleeping.
The list of specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing changes over time so travelers are asked to check back for updates and the latest recommendations. Travelers can also consult PAHO for a list of Latin American countries with ongoing transmission.
The Champaign Urbana Public Health District will meet with representatives from local health agencies Thursday to discuss information about the Zika virus.
Julie Pryde, CUPHD administrator, said any time there is a new issue or illness on the rise, they like to meet with community partners such as hospitals, clinics, EMS, and the University of Illinois to share information.
Christensen said Carle is prepared to evaluate, diagnose, and counsel anyone potentially exposed to Zika.
“Ideally, we want zero people affected here,” Christensen said. “We are helping other providers in the area with the information they need to help their patients.”
CDC Recommendations for Pregnant Women or Women Trying to Become Pregnant
- Women who are pregnant (in any trimester):
- Consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
- If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
- Women who are trying to become pregnant:
- Before you travel, talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant and the risk of Zika virus infection.
- Strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.