Zika virus- everything you need to know for your consultations. Plus, we look at some of the travel trends in 2016.

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Welcome to our February edition of Travel Health Bulletin

It was only back in our July 2015 Travel Health Bulletin that we highlighted some facts about this relatively unknown infection emerging in Brazil. Now it has made headline news as it spreads through the Americas.  In this month’s edition we look at some of the common questions and answers we are receiving in clinic at Nomad regarding the Zika virus. We also take a look at the latest trends in travel for 2016.

Zika Virus FAQs & straight forward answers that will help you advise travellers

What is Zika?

Zika is a viral infection transmitted by day time biting mosquitoes mostly biting around mid morning and late afternoon (dusk). These mosquitoes bite an infected person and then spread the infection to others when they bite again.

What are the symptoms?

Actually only a small number of people will know they are infected and have symptoms (around 1 in 5). The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain often of the hands and feet and conjunctivitis (red eyes). These symptoms can start from 3 – 12 days from being bitten and are usually mild, only lasting up to a week. 

What is the treatment for infection?

At present, there is no vaccine or drug currently to prevent or treat infection. Symptoms can be managed by getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to take paracetamol to relieve fever and pain.

Are there any long term health problems?

Infection provides life immunity against Zika infection. For women who are infected at the time of pregnancy there is a possible association with microcephaly (brain damage) in the new born baby.  A possible association between Zika virus and a rare disorder Guillain–Barré syndrome is being investigated.

If I get bitten by a mosquito infected with Zika virus will my future planned pregnancy be at risk?

The Zika virus only remains present in the blood for up to a week so it will not cause infection in babies conceived after the virus has gone from the blood. There is no evidence that Zika Virus infection poses a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies. 

Note: Zika virus has been shown to be present in semen up to two weeks after infection. The risk of Zika infection through sexual intercourse is thought to be low, however if you and your partner are planning pregnancy, it is advised that you use a condom for 28 days following return from an area of Zika virus or 6 months after recovery from Zika virus infection.

What is the threat to UK travellers?

We advise women planning pregnancy or who are pregnant to consider avoiding travel to areas where Zika virus outbreaks are ongoing. If travel is unavoidable, then thorough insect bite avoidance measures must be practiced.

*Current advice to pregnant women returning from areas with active Zika virus
If you have visited a country with active Zika virus transmission or experienced Zika symptoms either during or within two weeks of returning home, make an appointment to see your GP or midwife and mention your travel history. They will discuss the risk with you and will arrange an ultrasound scan of your baby to monitor growth and brain development.

What is the best way to protect myself from Zika Virus?

•    Cover up arms and legs - wear long loose fitted clothing. 
•    Apply DEET to exposed skins and re apply frequently - always apply over suncream (DEET can also be used safely in pregnancy)
•    Treat your clothing with permethrin – it will kill any mosquitoes that land on your clothes. 
•    Use Air conditioning seal windows and plug in repellents.
•    Sleep under mosquito nets if in basic accommodation or require extra protection

Useful Resources:

Travel Trends 2016

Below are some interesting trends from thye Travel Trends 2016 report by ABTA, which was released in December 2015. The full report can be found here.

•    City breaks and beach holidays are set to be top holiday choices in 2016
•    All-inclusive holidays are looking as popular as ever with 1 in 5 people saying they may take an all-inclusive holiday in 2016. 
•    Cruises are continuing to be popular with travellers over the age of 65.  The trend should continue in 2016 with new cruise destinations to include Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Vietnam. 
•    Older holidaymakers are seeking more active or adventurous holidays across the globe. ABTA research shows that in 2015 6% of over 55s took a sporting holiday and the same number are planning one for 2016. 
•    There is an increase in people seeking bespoke or tailor made holidays and popular in travellers between 25-34 years old and over 65. A key trend is to travel with a car and driver to allow ultimate flexibility over the trip. Popular destinations for this are Cuba, Mexico, the USA and Sri Lanka.

What does this mean for travel health advice? 
More travellers are travelling in older age to more developing countries and being more adventurous, taking part in sporting activities such as snorkelling, water rafting and horse. As travel health specialists we are responsible to advise and educate the older traveller on the potential risks to health and possible health hazards they could encounter.
Older travellers with pre existing chronic diseases and reduced immune system are more vulnerable to ill health during travel. It is our role to challenge ignorance of health risks and discuss important topics such as travel health insurance, the quality and potentially limited medical facilities available and management of pre existing chronic illness and medication. Road traffic accidents abroad and the risk of being injured or killed is still the biggest threat to travellers.
Those travelling in a taxi or renting car should check that the vehicle is in good condition and seatbelts are fitted. A comprehensive medical kit with sterile needles and syringes should be to hand.

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