By Kelly Youngblood
Sharon Warren of Mahomet was looking forward to a family vacation at one of their favorite places this summer, North Miami Beach. The hotel, rental car and five flights were already booked and ready to go.
Then Warren and her husband started reading about the Zika virus outbreak in parts of Miami and decided to change plans.
Warren said one of the factors in their decision was the unknown affects Zika has on children and adolescents who will soon be of child-bearing age. The couple has three children and since they were voluntarily going there on vacation, they didn’t think it was worth the risk to their family or anyone else.
“Because it was not a mandatory trip, would we want to put other people at risk if it spread through us? Ultimately, we decided against going,” she said.
Now the family is planning a trip closer to home but she is disappointed they are being charged a penalty fee for changing their airline tickets to avoid the outbreak.
The Center for Disease Control has issued a travel advisory to parts of Miami, which is currently the only location within the U.S. that has one. But that could change depending on further spread or outbreaks.
Julie Pryde of the Champaign Urbana Public Health District said a certain area in the Miami area is currently experiencing a locally transmitted outbreak.
Pryde said it’s likely that a traveler brought the virus into the area, was bitten by a mosquito, which then bit another person, and “the outbreak was on.”
Florida has the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, a type of mosquito that is the most effective at transmitting Zika.
Pryde said the Aedes Albopictus (Asian Tiger Mosquito) is present in this area, which can also transmit Zika and other diseases, although they are not as efficient at doing so.
While there have been no cases of travel-related Zika in Champaign County, the Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting 46 cases of Zika virus statewide.
Pryde said while it is possible there could be a localized transmission from one of these cases, it’s not probable because of the type of mosquitoes in this area.
Zika is spread primarily through an infected mosquito but can also be transmitted through sex, blood transfusions, and from mother to child.
Pryde said at this time pregnant women or women wanting to become pregnant should be “very concerned” about Zika virus as it has been linked to microcephaly and other birth defects.
There have also been cases of Zika causing Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare disease of the nervous system in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometime paralysis.
Dr. Franklyn Christensen, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Carle Hospital, said pregnant women or those trying to conceive should pay attention to the CDC’s list of places to avoid travel.
If they 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.
Pryde said a bill to help fund Zika response efforts in Illinois is currently awaiting approval by Congress.
For more information about Zika virus and how to protect yourself, go to http://www.cdc.gov/zika/.