Expert advice about the Zika virus
Dr Peter Ilves gives advice on the Zika virus and how you can try to avoid it.
‘I’m three months pregnant and we’re supposed to be going to southern Spain on holiday. But I’m so worried about getting the Zika virus that I feel like cancelling. Am I being stupid?’
'It is a rather worrying time in certain areas. Zika virus has been becoming a challenge for several regions around the world, and it has been particularly difficult to control the spread despite the huge efforts being made. It is mainly contracted through bites from the Aedes mosquito, but it does appear that there is a possible risk of other routes of infection, such as sexual activity.
It is right to be concerned if you’re pregnant and travelling to an area where Zika is active. This is because, while the infection usually causes only mild illness for most people, it can damage an unborn child. The condition it causes is called microcephaly, where the head of the baby is smaller than usual and this, very sadly, is associated with brain damage; there are also other birth defects of concern.
The current advice is that pregnant women in particular should find out everything about the risk of Zika in the area they are travelling to, and not to take non-essential trips. Women should also avoid becoming pregnant for 28 days after contracting the virus or even spending time in a region with Zika. This is the advice from Public Health England, the Government and other agencies – go to gov.uk/guidance/zika-virus and you will find constantly updated information and links to other helpful sites; there is also information at nhs.uk.
The spread is particularly worrying in the Americas, with regions of South America and increasingly the Caribbean highlighted. With regards to Spain, you should read lots and talk to your travel agency so you are very clear about any risks of travelling. Even though Spain may not be highlighted at the time of writing, things can change. Of course I would urge people not to panic, and if a region is clear of Zika then it need not be a consideration. So do your research – but I hope you have a happy holiday.