SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Public Health is alerting the public of the potential of contracting Zika virus while traveling abroad.
The virus is spread to people through mosquito bites, similar to West Nile virus or dengue fever. While illness is usually mild and severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, there is a possible link between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and subsequent birth defects.
Two pregnant Illinois residents who recently traveled to countries where the virus is found have tested positive for the virus. Physicians are monitoring their health and pregnancies.
“There is virtually no risk to Illinois residents since you cannot contract Zika virus from another person, but only through the bite of an infected mosquito,” IDPH Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah said. “But since this is a time of year when people travel to warmer climates and countries where Zika virus is found, we are urging residents, especially pregnant women, to take preventive measures when traveling in affected countries and check health travel advisories.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. But additional studies are needed, health officials say.
Until more is known, CDC recommends pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women, women trying to become pregnant, or women who are thinking about becoming pregnant and must travel to one of these areas should talk with their doctor or other health care provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms can last from several days to weeks. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat infection.
When traveling to countries where Zika virus has been reported, all travelers should take steps to prevent mosquito bites, such as using use insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, and staying in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens. More information about Zika virus can be found on the CDC website. CDC has also developed interim Zika virus guidelines for U.S. health care providers caring for pregnant women.