While studies are ongoing, recent observations suggest that the incidence of serious birth defects may be related to infection with the Zika virus. Pregnant women or women of childbearing age who plan to become pregnant and their sexual partners are the focus population for the efforts to prevent or mitigate the disease.
This article utilizes guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Department of Defense in order to provide basic education on how the Zika virus is transmitted, its signs and symptoms, and preventive measures and resources provided within the KMC to military members and their dependents.
The Zika virus is transmitted to humans by a mosquito species that is prevalent throughout the Americas and most often bites during the day. Outside of the Americas, the transmission is reported mainly around the tropical belt or equatorial countries. Several countries in Europe have reported travel-related Zika virus infections. The disease can also be transmitted by an infected mother to her newborn around the time of delivery. Cases of individuals becoming infected through blood transfusion have also been reported. However, the most important fact for the KMC population is that the Zika virus can be spread through sexual contact.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, and muscle and joint pain. The illness can last between two and seven days and is usually self-limited. Only one of every five infected individuals develops symptoms or illness. This means that if someone has traveled to an area where the disease transmission is known to occur, he or she could potentially be infected, even without any symptoms of illness.
Since there is no vaccine or treatment available for the virus, the most effective preventive measure is to avoid mosquito bites, which can be done by wearing proper protective clothing, using approved insect repellents, using bed nets, screening living quarters, and using permethrin-treated clothing. For females, approved insect repellents, including permethrin-treated clothing, are safe for use during pregnancy. Females who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised by the CDC to avoid travel to any areas where the virus transmission is occurring and unprotected sexual contact with their partners who live or have recently traveled to areas where the transmission is occurring. They also should consult a physician regarding how long to wait to become pregnant after they or their partner have traveled to an area that has the possibility of transmission, even if they are not displaying symptoms.
Although this disease currently has a low impact on Europe itself, those that work for the DOD may find themselves traveling to areas with possible Zika virus transmission. When faced with possible travel, one can educate themselves on the health risks relevant to the area of travel and preventive measures by accessing the CDC’s website www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html. Individual military personnel and their dependents planning travel to tropical regions may also utilize the Travel Medicine Clinic service for pre-travel counseling offered at the following two locations. It is important to note, this service is not available to large groups but is targeted towards individuals and families.
The Travel Medicine service offered at the 86 Medical Group on Ramstein can be reached at 06371-46-2525. People can check in at the Public Health front desk, Bldg. 2114, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Travel Medicine Clinic also offers detailed travel counseling visits by appointment only and can be reached at 06371-946-45827. Travel counseling appointments at Landstuhl should be made well in advance of the planned itinerary due to scheduling delays and the need to receive any recommended vaccines at least two weeks prior to the planned trip.
Editor’s note: Dr. (Lt. Col.) Kristen Bauer, LRMC infectious disease doctor, contributed to this article.