Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has been creating a buzz lately, may not be as hazardous for spring break travelers as some shocking headlines may suggest.
“I think it’s really being blown out of proportion. It’s not really any worse than having a bad fever,” Dr. Sarah Stewart from the University of Maine’s Cutler Health Center said. “It’s kind of like having a really bad flu.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five people who become infected with the Zika virus will display the illness’ mild symptoms of fever, joint pain, rash and conjunctivitis.
“The thing is, people go to these countries that have the Zika virus all of the time for spring break. Countries that have dengue and yellow fever, which give these same symptoms passed by mosquito bite,” Dr. Stewart said. “We very seldom see anyone coming back with these diseases.”
Dr. Stewart believes that the hype surrounding the virus has been caused by birth defects in Brazil that may have a connection to Zika. According to Dr. Stewart, there has been no reported evidence that can confirm the connection.
Although the chance of developing any serious medical issues as a result of the Zika virus during spring break is slim, some UMaine students and parents are still worried.
UMaine Nursing International is a group of nursing students led by Susan Wheaton. They plan to travel to Panama to provide healthcare over spring break. The group, which originally consisted of 12 students, has already lost one due to concern about the virus.
“I worry about malaria, yellow fever and water contamination equally as much as I worry about Zika,” Wheaton said. “All of them weigh the same.”
“I understand if parents are concerned and don’t necessarily want their students to go, but I think standard precautions are more than adequate.”
In fact, Dr. Stewart plans to soon travel to Puerto Rico, where there is currently a Zika outbreak, for a conference. She urges travelers to stay smart and be prepared.
Because there is no preventative vaccine for the Zika virus, the CDC suggests wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using insect repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency when traveling to affected areas.
There is also no specific medicine for treatment of Zika virus infections, but rest, fluids to prevent dehydration and acetaminophen to combat fever and pain are the CDC’s suggested forms of treatment.
“If anyone goes to Mexico over break and gets fever and rash and what-not, come in and we’ll take a look,” Dr. Stewart said. “We’re here if anyone has questions.”