Zika is an infection like dengue and yellow fever, transmitted by female Aedes mosquitos. The virus has been around for decades in Asia and Africa, and has never been found to correlate to birth defects in children until now. Last year, when a high number of Brazilian babies were born with microcephaly (smaller head and possible brain damage), the symptoms pointed in the direction of Zika, and a worldwide fear was born when the World Health Organization declared it a public health emergency.
But how true is all this reason to panic? Is Zika a serious concern or a media hype?
• The Brazil Ministry of Health declared early 2016 that 96% of the cases of Microcephaly were not in any way related to Zika. Research is currently done to investigate other possible causes of Mircocephaly, for example other organisms, nutrition, and environment.
• In an official statement released on January 22nd, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated: “The incidence of Zika infection in pregnant women is not currently known, and data on pregnant women infected with the virus are limited. No evidence exists to suggest that pregnant women are more susceptible to Zika virus infection or experience more severe disease during pregnancy. Studies are under way to investigate the association of Zika virus infection and microcephaly, including the role of other contributory factors. The full spectrum of outcomes that might be associated with Zika virus infections during pregnancy is unknown and requires further investigation.”
• Last week of January, the health secretary of Pernambuco state in Brazil, issued a bulletin showing a downward trend of cases of microcephaly. Last November the number was 194, and in February this year only 34 cases are still active statewide.
For people that are not pregnant or not trying to get pregnant, the risk is really minimum. Only one of five people infected with the Zika virus develop light symptoms, which can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, that generally last 2 to 7 days. Eighty percent of people who are infected never have any symptoms.
When you do have symptoms, get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, and if needed take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and visit a doctor if the symptoms do not decrease.
(If you are already using medicine, speak to your doctor first before taking additional medication)
Zika in Ecuador
According to Health Minister Margarita Guevara, there have been a total of 22 confirmed and 67 suspected Zika cases in Ecuador, and none with pregnant women. “We do not have pregnant women infected with Zika. In the event that this happens, we have intensive care units in all hospital units of third level,” she said. Compared to surroundings countries the percentage of people infected by Zika is extremely low, and has not had any major effects on the everyday life of people living or traveling in Ecuador.
The more rural areas and rainforest contain a higher risk of getting bitten by any mosquitos due to the tropical climate. The Andean regions, coast and Galapagos are very low risk due to altitude and a non-humid climate.
Because the Zika virus is like dengue or malaria, the prevention of getting bitten is the same with all insects. Protect yourself by using mosquito repellent, with at least 20% DEET, and wear long sleeves and trousers, especially during early morning and evening, when mosquitos are most active. When using a mosquito repellent, follow the instructions on the label, and do not use it for babies younger than 2 months of age.
Try to sleep in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. When spending time in the jungle, sleep under a mosquito net and keep lights out when windows or doors are open.
The number of actual cases of Microcephaly proven caused by Zika are extremely low. But, of course, being pregnant or wanting to get pregnant, you don`t want to take any risks and we understand that. So until there is more certainty about the virus, it is advised not to travel to countries that are infected. An updated map you can find on the website of CDC.
Traveling with Latin Frontiers
At Latin Frontiers, we want to make sure all of our travelers have a great experience in Ecuador. Based on the low incidence rate of Zika in Ecuador, and the generally mild effect of the virus, we believe it is safe to travel to Ecuador with the exception if the traveler is pregnant or seeking to get pregnant shortly after the trip. A large part of the areas of Ecuador such as the Andean region as well as Galapagos have very low probability of Zika because mosquitoes that carry the virus live in warm tropical areas of the country. For more detailed information about the Zika virus, you can visit the CDC home page at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/.