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Zika Virus | What You Need to Know

Updated May 8, 2017

We wanted to reach out to touch base on something that has been in the news and probably on your mind- the Zika Virus. Like Malaria, Dengue Fever and other illnesses, Zika Virus is spread by mosquito bites (female Aedes mosquitoes: aegypti or albopictus). These mosquitos are typically agressive daytime biters, but they can also bite at night. While Zika Virus appears to cause mild symptoms that are generally less severe than a flu you may have had in the past, the virus is linked to severe birth defects (microencephaly) to unborn babies when a pregnant woman gets infected with the virus during pregnancy.

CFHI takes your safety and health very seriously and we are monitoring the situation very carefully. Right now, it appears that anyone who is pregnant should avoid traveling to countries where the ZIka Virus is present. In addition, if you (men and/or women) are planning on becoming pregnant or you are planning on impregnating a sexual partner, you should avoid doing so until you have gotten tested for Zika after your return from an area where Zika is present, and discuss your plans for pregnancy/impregnating with a medical provider to determine the safest way to do so.  

As of today, areas affected by Zika include CFHI programs in Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The Aedes mosquito is common in warm, humid, tropical climates and prefers temperatures above 80 degrees. Elevations higher than 2,000 meters (6,500 ft.) have minimal likelihood for mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. 

Updated maps showing countries affected and more information can be found here: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html/.

Here's the bottom line (based on the info we have now which is always evolving): 

1. If you are currently pregnant and scheduled for a CFHI program in Mexico, Ecuador, or Bolivia in 2016 (relative to program sites at the temperatures and elevation mentioned above for Zika virus transmission), we recommend you change the location of your program to a site not affected (CFHI has programs in 7 other countries, all of which can be found here: https://www.cfhi.org/all-programs).

2. If you are a reproductive age female and sexually active (with males), we recommend you take a pregnancy test prior to departure on a CFHI program if you are going to Mexico, Bolivia, or Ecuador. If you have a positive pregnancy test just prior to departure, we suggest you delay your program until a time when you are not pregnant. Please contact CFHI if this situation applies to you.

3. All CFHI participants are encouraged to follow mosquito bite precautions to avoid or minimize the number of bites. To learn all about the precautions, visit this link: http://www.cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes/

4. For both men and women, if you are planning a pregnancy after your CFHI program, or planning on impregnating a partner, we suggest you discuss your travel/reproductive plans with a medical provider in order to develop a the safest plans for the near future (Zika can be sexually transmitted and can be present for an extended time after acute infection potentially affecting future pregnancies).

5. Based on the information we currently have, Zika does not appear to pose a threat to males or non-pregnant females other than mild viral symptoms (at times severe, but not fatal), which appear to be less severe than other illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes in the same region.

6. If you are concerned about Zika Virus and want to change your program location to one not affected, we are offering program location changes up to 90 days before your program start date, as long as there is space in another program (there may be differences in the program fee, so contact Lyndsey Brahm, lyndsey@cfhi.org, to discuss if you want to change programs).

7. The official word- below is information about the official WHO and CDC travel warnings.  


WHO/CDC Travel Warning: Zika Virus

The WHO and CDC are warning that there is an outbreak of Zika Virus, which is thought to be correlated to microcephaly in infants. To date, countries and territories with active Zika transmission are located in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa and Asia, though affected territories are expected to grow rapidly. The CDC has issued a special travel warning to women who are pregnant or are hoping to become pregnant. Please read the warning and list of affected countries here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices. 

Zika virus usually causes mild illness; with symptoms appearing a few days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. All travelers should take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Most people with Zika virus disease will get a slight fever and rash. Others may also get conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and feel tired. The symptoms usually finish in 2 to 7 days. The symptoms of Zika virus disease can be treated with common pain and fever medicines, rest and plenty of water; hospitalization is often not required. If symptoms worsen, people should seek medical advice. There is currently no cure or vaccine for the disease itself.

CDC has released updated guidelines concerning prevention of sexual transmission of the Zika virus. Women diagnosed with the Zika virus or experiencing symptoms are recommended to wait at least eight weeks from when the symptoms appeared, before trying to become pregnant (further studies are being conducted to determine the appropriate amount of time). The Zika virus is said to remain in the blood for at least 10 days (incubation period), but this has not been confirmed.

For men and women diagnosed with the Zika virus and for those who have been exposed to the virus (men can carry/transmit it without knowing that they've contracted it), the recommendation from CDC is to wait at least six months from the moment of illness, before having unprotected sex. Zika virus can be passed through sex before symptoms begin, while symptoms are present and after symptoms subside. Studies are underway to find out how long Zika stays in the semen and vaginal fluids of people who have Zika, and how long it can be passed to sex partners. It is known that Zika can remain in semen longer than in other body fluids, including vaginal fluids, urine, and blood.

CDC is stressing that mosquitoes are still the greatest source of new Zika cases and that preventing bites are the most effective way to avoid the virus. For more details, visit this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/03/25/sex-in-a-time-of-zika-cdc-issues-ever-more-detailed-guidelines/

Learn more by reading CDC and WHO information about Zika Virus, including links to the latest travel warnings:

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/                                                                  

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0505-Zika-testing-results.html

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/                                                               

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/health/what-is-zika-virus.html


Please know that CFHI is monitoring the situation in an ongoing fashion and will provide new details as they arise. Don't hesitate to contact CFHI staff with any questions or concerns related to Zika virus and your upcoming program travel:
 students@cfhi.org