This Won’t Fit in Your Suitcase: Zika Virus & Spring Break Travels

By: Lily Reisinger

When asked about their knowledge of Zika virus, students around Princeton’s campus collectively drew a blank. Sophomore Kira Keating, however, is well aware of the prevalence of Zika virus in the Dominican Republic, where she’ll be traveling for spring break. In fact, she says the outbreak almost made her reconsider her trip:

“The threat posed by Zika was mainly my parents’ concern, but they decided to allow me to go regardless because I would be staying at a resort in a generally commercialized area.”

In addition to warnings administered by the CDC and World Health Organization, Princeton University Health Services has also posted a notice on their website. Although there are currently zero reported locally acquired vector-borne cases in the United States, contraction while overseas is still a possibility, as made evident by the 153 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases.

University Health Services was able to address some common concerns regarding spring break travel for students going abroad:

Travelers to areas with local Zika transmission should take every precaution to prevent mosquito bites.  Recommended precautions can be found on the CDC website, and include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, staying and sleeping in screened or air conditioned rooms, and using EPA approved insect repellents. Pregnant women and women who are planning to become pregnant should reconsider travel to areas with Zika, at least until more is understood about the risk of microcephaly, a severe birth defect that may be related to Zika virus infection. Travelers should seek advice from their doctors and the CDC website for updates, as the evidence base is evolving.

It is difficult to compare potential for cases of Zika on campus to the outbreak of Meningitis B in 2014, because the illnesses are so different from one another, both in how they are transmitted and the severity of symptoms which typically occur.  At UHS, we encourage and will facilitate evaluation and testing of anyone returning from a Zika affected area who develops Zika consistent symptoms or who is pregnant.  Princeton University is monitoring the Zika situation closely and is working with the CDC and New Jersey Department of Public Health to ensure that we are able to provide timely updates and advice to our students and staff as this situation evolves. Further information can also be found on the UHS website.

As information about Zika virus, its symptoms and risks continues to develop, it is important to stay up-to-date on public health advisories in order remain mindful and protected. There is currently no vaccine for Zika virus; however, President Obama recently made a Congressional proposal for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to partially endow an expedited effort to develop a Zika vaccine.

Concerned about your travel plans? See the UHS Zika virus notice for returning and departing travelers here.

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