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Content – from News24.com & The World Health Organisation (http://www.who.int/en/)

Travellers have been warned that the Zika virus is spreading like wildfire, causing pregnant couples to second guess travel plans and avoid high-risk destinations.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can affect foetuses, causing birth defects and abnormalities.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):  Agencies investigating the Zika outbreaks are finding an increasing body of evidence about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly.  However, more investigation is needed before we understand the relationship between microcephaly in babies and the Zika virus. Other potential causes are also being investigated.

Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of environmental and genetic factors such as Downs syndrome; exposure to drugs, alcohol or other toxins in the womb; and rubella infection during pregnancy.

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. The same mosquito also transmits 3 other vector-borne diseases — dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever – across tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are headache, muscle and joint pain, mild fever, rash, and inflammation of the underside of the eyelid.  These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.

To lower the risk of being infected with Zika virus: use insect repellent; cover as much of the body as possible with long, light-coloured clothing; empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water to remove places mosquitoes can breed; and sleep under mosquito nets.

Countries in the Caribbean, Latin America and South America and parts of Africa and America make up 22 countries where women are advised not to travel. While many believe that it will be safer to not travel, as travelling abroad when pregnant is a health risk on its own – South Africa is free from the Zika virus.

Before you travel abroad with your family, be sure to visit the WHO website for updates:  http://www.who.int/topics/zika/en/

The WHO representative for South Africa is Dr Sarah Louise Barber;  PO Box 13113 Tramshed 0126 – Pretoria, South Africa;  Telephone: +27 12 3057709;  Email:  afwcozawr@who.int

The World Health Organisation estimates there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in the Americas in the next year, but no recommendations were made to restrict travel or trade.

“It is important to understand, there are several measures pregnant women can take,” Dr Margaret Chan (WHO Director-General) said. “If you can delay travel and it does not affect your other family commitments, it is something to consider.”

“If they need to travel, they can get advice from their physician and take personal protective measures, like wearing long sleeves and shirts and pants and using mosquito repellent.”

There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.  For most people diagnosed with Zika virus disease, diagnosis is based on their symptoms and recent history (e.g. mosquito bites, or travel to an area where Zika virus is known to be present). A laboratory can confirm the diagnosis by blood tests.  People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, they should seek medical care and advice.

Countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission: