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Travelers' Health: Zika Virus in the Caribbean

photo of Trunk Bay on St. John in Virgin Islands Park

In December 2015, the first local transmission of Zika virus infection (Zika) was reported in the Caribbean. Local transmission means that mosquitoes in the area have been infected with Zika virus, spreading it to people. Since then, the following Caribbean destinations have reported ongoing transmission of Zika:

  • Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curaçao, The Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, U.S. Virgin Islands

Because Zika virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, CDC recommends that travelers to the Caribbean protect themselves from mosquito bites. Sexual transmission of Zika virus from a male partner is possible, so travelers are also encouraged to use condoms.

About Zika Virus Disease

Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. Before 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented, although other cases were likely to have occurred and were not reported. Because the symptoms of Zika are similar to those of many other diseases, many cases may not have been recognized.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Local transmission has been reported in many other countries and territories. Zika virus likely will continue to spread to new areas.

What can travelers do to prevent Zika?

There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:

  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label.

  • Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children aged older than 2 months.

  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself.

  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Sexual transmission of Zika virus from a male partner is possible. If you have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a male partner while traveling, you should use condoms the right way every time. Condoms can also help prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

After travel

  • Prevent additional mosquito bites for 3 weeks to avoid spreading the disease.

  • Men who have traveled to an area with ongoing Zika transmission should consider using condoms consistently and correctly to protect their sexual partners.

  • Men who have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity (vaginal, anal, or oral) or consistently and correctly use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.

If you feel sick and think you may have Zika:

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if you develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Tell him or her about your travel.

  • Take medicine, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain. Do not take aspirin, products containing aspirin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.

  • Get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids.

If you are pregnant

All pregnant travelers returning from areas with ongoing Zika transmission can be tested for Zika virus infection. This includes both pregnant women with symptoms of Zika and pregnant women with no symptoms.

  • If you do not have symptoms of illness, visit your doctor between 2 and 12 weeks after you return from travel for testing.

  • If you develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes, talk to your doctor or nurse immediately and tell him or her about your travel.

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