Health & Medicine

Holiday travelers to Mexico warned to guard against Zika virus

Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 27, holds her daughter Maria Giovanna, who was born with microcephaly caused by the Zika virus, outside their house in Recife, Brazil. The disease is now being found in Mexico.
Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 27, holds her daughter Maria Giovanna, who was born with microcephaly caused by the Zika virus, outside their house in Recife, Brazil. The disease is now being found in Mexico. Associated Press file

Holiday travelers headed to Mexico this winter were warned Monday to protect themselves against Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

Any travel to Mexico is now considered to be risky for Zika virus infections, especially for pregnant women, according to the California Department of Public Health, which specifically cited popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Mazatlan.

Pregnant women are advised to not travel to Mexico and take precautions if their partners have visited at-risk regions such as Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, according to state and federal authorities.

“Pregnant women and couples contemplating pregnancy need to be particularly cautious because of the severe defects that can be caused to a fetus by the Zika virus,” said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the state public health department, in a statement.

Mexico’s resort cities are popular holiday destinations for Sacramento-area residents, many of whom have already booked their trips, said Nasreen Omer, a travel agent with Giselle’s Travel in Sacramento.

“Mexico is a busy destination for us, very busy. I will be telling (clients) just to be aware and be more careful,” Omer said.

Despite months of state and federal Zika virus warnings, Omer said the only clients who’ve changed their travel plans were a honeymooning couple who canceled their Caribbean honeymoon and rebooked it for Chile.

As of Nov. 10, California has 374 confirmed cases of Zika virus infections since 2015, all of which were travel-related. Most of the cases are in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Locally, Sacramento County has had seven cases and Yolo County four.

There’s no vaccine for the Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects such as microcephaly in infants. Zika symptoms can include a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes, but in many cases there are no indications of infection. That means infected individuals could unwittingly spread the virus after returning home, either through unprotected sex or when a mosquito bites them, then spreads the virus by biting someone else.

California public health officials are asking travelers to “take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks after a trip, even if you don’t feel sick,” Smith said. Those steps include wearing mosquito repellant, long sleeves and pants, as well as using condoms during sex.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck

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