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24 March 2016

On February 1st  the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern regarding clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil and potential association with Zika virus.

Due to the concerns about the possibility of severe outcomes for unborn babies, women who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant, should consider delaying their travel to areas with active outbreaks of Zika.

Background

Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Ugandan monkeys in 1947. Since then outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. Local transmission has been reported in Samoa and Tonga and recently New Caledonia has been added to the list of affected countries.

Zika is a virus spread to humans by the aedes mosquito, which is also responsible for the spread of dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Transmission of Zika virus is through the bite of an infected mosquito, most commonly Aedes Aegypti found in tropical and sub tropical areas.

Most people who get infected with Zika virus do not show any symptoms. In others it can cause a mild illness, consisting of slight fever and rash, while some may also have conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain and tiredness. The symptoms last 2-7 days. Illness from Zika is usually not severe and does not require hospitalisation.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika virus and no specific treatment.

Zika virus and pregnancy

Recent outbreaks in Central and South America, particularly Brazil, have raised concerns that there is a possible association between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and certain birth defects (including microcephaly, a severe birth defect in newborn babies). The causal link is not yet scientifically proven and additional research is ongoing.

The best prevention from Zika virus is prevention of mosquito bites in at risk individuals, especially pregnant women.

Travel Implications

Monash University follows the guidelines and recommendations for travel set out by Department Foreign Affairs and Trade (smartraveller) and Commonwealth Department of Health. New advice warnings have been issued, particularly  for pregnant women, to reconsider travel plans to countries affected by the virus, including many in South and Central America, and the Pacific Island nation Samoa.

All travellers are advised to take the following mosquito bite prevention measures when travelling to areas currently affected by Zika virus or wherever mosquito borne diseases are present. These precautions are necessary in both the day and night times.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin. Always use as directed. Insect repellents containing DEET and picaridin are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents)
  • Use bed nets as necessary
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms

On return

There have been a number of reported cases of Zika virus in Australia resulting from travellers being infected overseas and returning to Australia. There are no reported cases of microcephaly or other neurological disorders relating to Zika in Australia.

If you feel unwell while you are away or on your return, you should see a doctor as soon as possible and mention your recent travel.

For those women who are pregnant and have recently travelled to areas where there is ongoing Zika virus transmission and suffered an illness that you think might be Zika, you should see a doctor.

The Australian Government continues to monitor international ports of entry to prevent the types of mosquitoes that can transmit Zika from entering.

Further information is available from the following websites: