Guest blog by Marisha DiCarlo, Director of Health Communications, Arkansas Department of Health
I love a girls’ trip. I’m fortunate enough to have a sweet husband who watches the kids occasionally, and lets me escape with my besties for a little bit of relaxation and “me time.”
This year, I was very excited for an island get-away, complete with surf and sun. As I tossed my gear into my worn-out suitcase and triple-checked the dates on my passport and my sunscreen, it dawned on me that I had another extra consideration to keep in mind: Zika virus.
Zika has rapidly spread throughout the southern hemisphere in the past year and a half, and even though I personally don’t PLAN to have any more children, (WARNING: TMI) I’m still hovering in the middle/end of my childbearing years. I know it can cause serious birth defects in babies born to pregnant women who get the virus, so why take any chances? A lot of my friends are still having babies, and I certainly don’t want to bring this virus back home and share it with the mosquitoes that could transmit the virus here in Arkansas. So, for my trip I planned to take precautions against bug bites. I packed some insect repellent with DEET. I tossed a few long-sleeve cover-ups into my suitcase. Finally, I headed online to the cdc.gov/travel website to see if there were any reported cases of Zika virus where I was headed. As my seven-year old says, “Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy.”
As it turns out, my trip was to a place with no reported cases of Zika virus infection this year. I’m glad I checked it out though, because I learned two really important facts from the interactive map on CDC’s website. First, even though there were no reported cases on the island I was going to visit, there were cases just an island over. I don’t know the flight patterns of the mosquitoes that transmit Zika, but those cases were just a little too close to risk a stray mosquito bite. No need to make the news as the first case acquired on the island this year! Second, there were reported cases of other diseases and illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes on the island. I decided to stick with my plan to protect myself and not end up as a mosquito’s dinner.
The trip happened, I stayed relatively sunburn free, and thanks to precautions, did not end up as a mosquito’s main course. For all those thinking of a little tropical R&R, I encourage you to check out the CDC travel website, so you can plan accordingly. Know before you go. Safe travels.