Travel Advice in response to Zika Virus outbreak
Zika is a virus carried by the Aedes mosquitoes, and an outbreak of the Zika Virus (ZIKAV) in South and Central America and the Caribbean has led to the issuance of a number of international travel alerts.
The HSE’s Health protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) states that “Zika is a viral infection that usually causes a mild illness that typically lasts between 2 to 7 days. 80% of people who become infected by Zika virus have no symptoms.”
There is now sufficient evidence that the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, consider that the cause of increased cases of microcephaly in the region is infection during pregnancy with the Zika virus.
It is important to note that not all countries are associated with the same level of risk: there are variations between those with “an increasing or widespread transmission” of the disease and those characterised by “sporadic transmission following recent introduction”.
An up-to-date list of affected countries and territories, along with further information, is available on the website of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). The HPSC is the relevant expert body with competence in this area and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade bases its travel advice on their recommendations.
Irish citizens traveling to, or living in, affected areas should keep themselves informed as the situation is dynamic and subject to rapid change. Information is available on the websites of the HPSC, WHO and the European Centre for Disease Surveillance and Control (ECDC).
Pregnant women, those trying to become pregnant
There are reports of an increase in the incidence of microcephaly - abnormal smallness of the head and incomplete brain development - among newborns in areas where the Zika virus was known to be in circulation. It is essential that pregnant women, or those considering becoming pregnant, discuss any travel plans to affected areas in advance with their healthcare provider. Based on guidance from Irish public health experts, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade strongly recommends that pregnant women consider postponing their travel to affected areas, and in particular to areas classified as having an increasing or widespread transmission of the Zika virus.
Those with concerns should review the HPSC website for the latest updates. Pregnant women who have travelled to areas with Zika virus transmission should provide details of their travel abroad during antenatal visits in order to be assessed and monitored appropriately.
What should women who are trying to become pregnant do when returning to Ireland from an area where Zika is circulating?
It is important for you to delay pregnancy for at least 8 weeks after your return from an affected area. If you become ill upon your return to Ireland, you should contact your doctor for assessment and let him/her know of your recent travel history to an affected area.
If you become ill with Zika upon your return to Ireland, you should wait 8 weeks after the start of your symptoms before trying to become pregnant. You should also contact your doctor for assessment and let him/her know of your recent travel history to an affected area.
If your male partner travelled to an affected area, you should follow advice for preventing sexual transmission by using condoms and delay pregnancy as follows:
- A woman whose male partner was ill with Zika should delay pregnancy for 6 months.
- A woman whose male partner travelled to an affected area but was not ill with Zika should delay pregnancy for 8 weeks after return to Ireland.
Men returning from Zika affected area
As the Zika virus can be passed in a man’s semen, men returning from a Zika-affected area who do not have any symptoms of Zika are advised to practice safe sex (by wearing a condom) for one month after return. Men who have developed symptoms that could be due to Zika virus infection (fever, headache, aches, pains, rash, itchy eyes) are advised to practice safe sex (by wearing a condom) for 6 months after return. This is precautionary advice that may be revised as more information becomes available.
What should a man do after returning from an affected area, if their partner is trying to become pregnant?
Men returning from affected areas should follow the advice on preventing sexual transmission by using condoms and their partner should delay pregnancy as follows:
- A man who was ill with Zika should delay pregnancy with their partner for 6 months.
- A man who has travelled to an affected area but was not ill with Zika should delay pregnancy with their partner for 8 weeks after return to Ireland.
Are people in Ireland at risk of Zika?
The virus is mainly spread through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which is not present in Ireland. This type of mosquito is unlikely to establish in Ireland in the near future as temperatures in Ireland are not consistently high enough for it to breed.
The first two (unrelated) Irish cases of the virus were reported on 15 May 2016; the HSE confirmed that both individuals are well and are fully recovered.
Practical steps to avoid infection
It is important when travelling to take personal responsibility for your health and wellbeing.
The HSE recommends a number of precautions that citizens can take to reduce their exposure to mosquito bites: use of mosquito repellents; wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers, especially during the hours of highest mosquito activity; avoiding areas of high mosquito concentration (e.g. stagnant water); and use of mosquito nets in accommodation which is not adequately screened or air-conditioned. Irish citizens in affected areas should consult with local people about how best to protect themselves.
Further practical information is available on the websites of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the European Centre for Disease Surveillance and Control.
Register your travel dates and contact details with us, so that we can contact you if there is an unforeseen crisis
Irish Citizens travelling outside of the Common Travel Area (Ireland/Great Britain) are encouraged to register travel dates and contact details with us, so that we can contact you and provide assistance if there is an unforeseen crisis such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, or if you have a family emergency while you are overseas. This is particularly useful for people travelling to remote destinations or locations where they may be at a higher risk.
Consult our travel advice for your destination country
Our travel advice helps holidaymakers to make informed decisions when planning a trip overseas. We advise travellers to take out appropriate insurance cover for all overseas travel.
As of 30/05/16 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has so far issued advisories for:
St Vincent and the Grenadines