The ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus has led to multiple travel warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people who may be thinking about traveling to affected areas.
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There are currently 24 countries and territories with known Zika virus transmissions, putting residents and visitors at added risk. The CDC announced this afternoon they were adding the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic to the list.
The CDC is currently warning pregnant women to "consider postponing travel" to these countries or anywhere else "where Zika virus transmission is ongoing."
Additionally, the CDC has advised all pregnant woman to consult with their doctor if they decide to travel to these areas anyway. Women who are considering getting pregnant should also talk to their doctor before traveling, and both groups should take extensive steps to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, according to the CDC.
The virus has been associated with a rise of a birth defect called microcephaly that leaves infants with an underdeveloped head and brain. Thousands of infants in Brazil have reportedly been born with the birth defect, sparking a nationwide response to fight the spread of the virus.
Health officials from the CDC are also looking at if there has been a rise of a rare paralysis syndrome called Guillain-Barre syndrome and if it is connected to the virus. The syndrome is the result of an immunological response and has been known to affect people after other viral or bacterial infections, including influenza.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said he would advise all travelers to reconsider going to these countries until we know more about how the Zika virus is related to Guillain-Barre syndrome.
"It can affect anyone and is an extremely arduous illness," Schaffner explained. "Anyone who goes to any country where Zika is endemic ought be attentive to avoid mosquitoes."
Schaffner explained that Guillain-Barre syndrome can affect anyone, young or old, and can be especially dangerous if the paralysis reaches the muscles that control breathing. The syndrome can result in people needing to stay on a respirator for around a month to six weeks.
While many people make a full recovery, Schaffner said the disease can be extremely difficult physically and psychologically.
"Psychologically it’s a huge stress, because you are lucid the entire time," Schaffner said. "There are some people who are left with partial paralysis," even after treatment.
The CDC advises all travelers going to countries where Zika is present to cover exposed skin and use EPA-registered insect repellents. Schaffner also advised that people should avoid more rural areas where mosquito populations might be higher.