Hitting a Cancun beach, but forgoing day trips that would pass through a jungle. Heading to Hawaii instead of Puerto Rico. Wearing DEET, the heavy-duty insect repellent associated with camping in the woods, for a stroll through urban Miami. These are some of the steps Minnesotans have taken since Zika emerged as a global health problem in 2015.
News of the virus has dwindled lately — but the virus itself has not. While it has been suppressed (but not eradicated) in Miami, Zika is spreading, having reached areas including the Caribbean, Mexico, Thailand and, most recently, Angola.
Since its outbreak, there have been 64 laboratory-confirmed cases of people infected with Zika in Minnesota, according to the Centers for Disease Control. All have been travel-related.
Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which dwell in climates warmer than Minnesota’s. It can also be contracted during sex.
Zika can cause serious birth defects. It has also been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious and rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
This is reason enough to slather on repellent — or avoid travel to areas where Zika could be lurking in mosquitoes, especially for couples planning to conceive a child. But there are two more reasons to spritz or lotion up: chikungunya and Dengue fever, both serious illnesses conveyed by mosquitoes in tropical zones.
The best way to prevent any of these three illnesses? Avoid mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and pants. Use insect repellent with one of these active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or paramenthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. And for up-to-date information and more tips before a trip, go to cdc.gov/zika.
Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.