Spring 2016 is approaching fast. With traveling abroad is on your agenda you will soon be gearing up for your travels, but before you go, learn more about the Zika virus because it may affect you.

Recently, the Zika virus has made headlines all over the world. What is it? How may it affect your study abroad plans? Continue reading for a breakdown of the virus and what you need to know before you journey abroad.

What is the Zika virus?
According to the The World Health Organization (WHO), Aedes mosquitoes carry the Zika virus and transmit it through their bites. Back in 1947, researchers identified the virus while studying  monkeys in Uganda. Later in 1952, the virus was discovered in humans in Uganda. The Zika virus has mainly been found in Africa, Southeast Asia and Central and South America. Now it has spread to other parts of the world.

Seriousness of the Zika virus

The first major outbreak was in Cape Verde on October 2015. The mosquitoes in that region were infected with Zika, bit the locals and transmitted the virus to citizens. Soon after, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) declared the increasing spread of Zika, a “global public health emergency.”

As of February 2016, more than twelve cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the US, all from travelling to regions where the virus was present. Once the virus is in your bloodstream, you can transmit it to other mosquitoes that bite you. CDC also warns men can transmit Zika to sexual partners. They caution men who may be infected or exposed to abstain from sex or use a condom. Zika can remain in semen and blood long after symptoms fade. The American Red Cross asks persons who may have been exposed to abstain from donating blood for this reason.

In a recent article published by The Washington Post, the CDC reported individuals in 14 states and the District of Columbia having the virus. Six of these individuals are pregnant women. Two other women with the virus recently experienced miscarriages. U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also have Zika concerns.

Zika has now been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly. Guillain-Barré syndrome is when the body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms causing temporary paralysis of the body. According to experts, a pregnant woman carrying the Zika virus can pass it onto their newborn.The child may be born with microcephaly, a birth defect where newborns are born with small heads and incomplete brain development.

As of February 11, 2016, 3 people have died from complications relating to the Zika virus in Venezuela. Officials have not yet disclosed what these complications are. Since November 2015, over 5,000 people in Venezuela have the virus.

What are the signs of this virus?
It is difficult to identify whether an individual has contracted the virus or not. Only one in five infected persons manifest symptoms. The CDC suggests looking out for these symptoms:

  • fever
  • rash
  • joint pain
  • red eye like conjunctivitis
  • muscle pains
  • headaches

Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a week. Those who are infected do not get sick enough to visit the hospital and deaths are rare. A thorough blood test will identify Zika. If you have traveled outside of the US, especially to areas where the virus is active, inform your doctor immediately. You may have the Zika virus or similar mosquito born illnesses like dengue or chikungunya.

How do you know if you are traveling to a region with Zika?

Please keep in mind that the virus is now a global crisis. For more information on traveling to areas with Zika and a complete list of the regions where outbreaks are present, click here.

How does this affect your study abroad plans?

If you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant, officials highly advise you to not travel to areas where Zika is present. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes in countries where Zika is present. You can be a carrier and not know it.

Still planning on study abroad regardless? Here are some precautions worth considering:

  • Avoid getting bitten by a mosquito!
  • Cover up by wearing long shirts and pants.
  • Wear a hat to protect your head.
  • Wear shoes and socks to cover your feet.
  • Stay in dry, cool and breezy areas.
  • Make sure your room has a window with a screen and can close.
  • Have a mosquito bed net.
  • Wear effective repellant. If you are pregnant, check with your doctor before applying.

Whatever your decision is, depart smart. Don’t forget to enroll in STEP to get the latest United States Department of State safety travel information.

Are you planning to study abroad in Brazil this summer? Latin America is a breeding ground for Zika.