Albertans love to travel to hot places to escape our cold winters. Direct flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and the like mean that in just a few hours, we can go from -20°C to +30°C and trade our winter boots and mittens for flip-flops and sunscreen. But what about the Zika virus? If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, is it safe to visit these warmer countries? What do you need to know before you go?
The Zika virus is spread mostly through the bite of an infected mosquito. The species of mosquitoes that transmit Zika are only found in warm, tropical climates. They cannot survive the cold Canadian winter. Places like Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Southeast Asia, Ocean Pacific Islands, and limited areas in North America, Central Africa, and West Africa currently have a risk of Zika virus infection.
A Zika virus infection during pregnancy can lead to a baby that is born with permanent defects, even if the mother has no symptoms. The virus can affect the brain and nervous system of a developing baby.
This can result in:
Since there is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus or medication to treat an infection, it is important to protect yourself if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. This is because the virus can be spread from an infected mother to the unborn baby. The Zika virus can also be passed from an infected male to a female during sex.
How can I protect myself when planning a pregnancy?
Choose a vacation destination that does not have a risk of Zika virus infection. If travel to an area with the Zika virus can’t be avoided, talk to your health care provider at least four to six weeks before traveling. Protect yourself from mosquito bites by using bed netting, wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent on exposed skin, and thinking about where you’ll stay ahead of time.
If you’re female and returning from an area that has reported mosquito-spread Zika infection, wait at least two months before trying to become pregnant. If you’re male and returning from an area that has reported mosquito-spread Zika infection, wait at least six months before trying to conceive. Zika virus can stay in semen for up to six months. During this time, either use condoms or avoid having sex. This will make sure the Zika virus is out of your body and not transmitted.
What if I am already pregnant?
The same advice applies to you as for someone who may be planning a pregnancy. Avoid travel to areas that are known to have mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika virus, if possible. If travel to an area with the Zika virus can’t be avoided, protect yourself from mosquito bites and prevent transmission by using condoms or not having sex for the remainder of your pregnancy. See your health care provider before you go, and get travel insurance that covers you for pregnancy, no matter where you decide to travel.
For a complete list of countries with a risk of Zika virus infection, visit the Government of Canada’s Zika virus information page at canada.ca/en/services/health/countries-areas-risk-zika-virus.html.
This information contains excerpts from Alberta Health Services’ Ready or Not Alberta online resource. For more information on topics related to preconception health or planning a pregnancy, visit readyornotalberta.ca.
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