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Spring Breakers Beware

by Veronica Milligan

Spring break is a great time to travel with friends and enjoy the sunshine far away from Illinois. This year students should be more cautious in choosing their break destination. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns of several countries and one United States territory that have active transmissions of the Zika virus. Among these are popular spring break destinations, including Mexico, The Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and several others.

The Zika virus is a rather mild disease that’s symptoms are not deadly to most people. According to the CDC, one in five people who are infected will actually become ill. The symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (pinkeye). A person becomes infected when the disease is transmitted to them by a species of mosquito known as Aedes. The symptoms typically last only a few days, and rarely a person may be hospitalized, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Both the CDC and WHO mention that there have been reports of the Zika virus being transmitted by blood transfusion and sexual contact. The symptoms are the same by either form of transmission. There is also a small concern for a connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome, as six countries have reported a rise in people who had the virus and the syndrome. The potential correlation between the two is being investigated by the WHO.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disease in which the immune system attacks the Schwann cells (cells that protect neurons that allow for body movement) in the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms include muscle weakness and sometime paralysis, usually on one side of the body. These symptoms can last for weeks to months. The CDC and WHO emphasize that we do not know yet if the Zika virus does cause Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The largest concern about the virus is its link to pregnant women. The CDC reports that the Zika virus in pregnant women can be transferred to the fetus and result in a brain defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where the baby’s head is much smaller than normal because the brain did not develop properly. Many problems are associated with this condition, including seizures, hearing loss and developmental delays.

The CDC recommends several ways to prevent contraction of the virus. Firstly, pregnant women or women who could become pregnant should not travel to locations with known active transmission of the virus. The best way to prevent getting the virus is to prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and staying in places that are difficult for mosquitos to get to.

When asked if there is a concern for Zika in the United States, professor of biology and chemistry Dr. David Reid, said, “At this point, only if you are a female traveling to infected areas and could possibly be pregnant or potentially become pregnant. However, the virus can potentially be spread through body fluids, so males need to practice safe sex if they are potentially exposed to the virus.” Currently the only reports of Zika virus in the United States are travel-related. Perhaps when planning your spring break trip this year keep an open mind to other locations such as Canada or Europe.

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