Californians traveling to Mexico and other Latin American countries for the holidays should protect themselves from mosquito bites, state health officials say.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider any travel to Mexico to be a potential risk for Zika virus infection.
Many areas of Mexico are now experiencing transmission of the Zika virus, particularly popular tourist destinations, including Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Mazatlan. The states of Baja California Sur, where Cabo San Lucas is located, and Sonora, which borders Arizona, have recently reported local Zika virus transmission. While the state of Baja California bordering California has not reported Zika virus transmission, the mosquitoes that transmit the virus are present along the border.
Zika virus can be spread through mosquito bites and also can be transmitted by both men and women during sex. The virus can cause severe birth defects and neurological problems in adults.
“Pregnant women and couples contemplating pregnancy need to be particularly cautious because of the severe defects that can be caused to a fetus by the Zika virus,” said Dr. Karen Smith, state health officer. Both California and federal public health officials urge pregnant women not to travel to areas with known Zika transmission.
Most people who are infected with Zika do not experience any symptoms. However, symptoms can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.
The mosquitoes that can carry and infect people with Zika already live in many areas of California, including Fresno, Clovis and other areas of the central San Joaquin Valley.
“If one of these mosquitoes bites an infected person, it can spread the virus by biting another person. That is why we ask people traveling to Mexico, or any other place where Zika exists, to take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks after a trip, even if you don’t feel sick,” Smith said.
There has been no local transmission of Zika virus in California to date, but the state has confirmed 362 cases of travel-associated infections.
To prevent mosquito bites, apply repellents containing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label). Individuals should wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and shoes when outdoors. Be sure window and door screens are in good condition to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.