Officials closely monitoring outbreak of ZIKA virus, travelers should be aware

January 21, 2016

Recent outbreaks of the Zika virus in the Western Hemisphere have raised concerns about its spread and the risk to pregnant women and their babies. There have been no locally transmitted cases of Zika virus in Oregon or the continental United States. However, cases have been reported in travelers returning to the United States.

Multnomah County health officials are closely following these developments. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county officials are sharing the following information:

What you should know about the Zika virus:

Zika is a virus that is spread by mosquitoes. It was first identified in 1947 and has been found in tropical countries across the globe. Only about one in five people who are infected will get sick. For those who do get sick, the illness is usually mild. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, headache, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) lasting up to a week. Serious illness requiring hospitalization is uncommon. The most serious health effects are when Zika infects both a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Please contact your healthcare provider if you are pregnant and have traveled to an affected area.

What is happening now?

Since May 2015 in Brazil, an ongoing outbreak of Zika has caused over 3,800 cases of infants born with small heads and brain damage (known as microcephaly) related to infections that occurred during pregnancy. Other countries in Central and South America have also detected cases. More recently, the disease has been found in the United States in residents of several states who recently traveled to countries with Zika. On January 15, 2016, the CDC issued a travel alert that recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant.

What is the risk in Oregon?

Zika virus is known to be carried by certain species of mosquitoes. Multnomah County Vector Control closely tracks all mosquito species that appear locally. There have been no reports of these mosquitoes in Multnomah County or elsewhere in Oregon. Also, other diseases spread by the same mosquito species have not caused local infections here, even when sick people return from tropical areas.

How can travelers protect their health?

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease. The only way to prevent Zika is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes in countries that currently have Zika virus epidemics. Currently, the CDC advises that all pregnant women consider postponing travel to these countries. If a pregnant woman must travel to an affected country now, it is important to take all possible steps to prevent mosquito bites. Taking these steps will also protect against other serious and potentially life-threatening diseases that are spread by mosquitoes.

People who are traveling to an affected country are advised to take the following steps to prevent infection.

Mosquitoes that carry Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime, both outdoors and indoors. Protect yourself by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants if possible. Use insect repellants containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or para-menthane-diol on exposed skin, and apply permethrin to clothing or buy permethrin-treated clothing. These products are safe to use by pregnant women. Sleep under a mosquito bed net unless you are staying in a building with air conditioning or window screens.

To learn more:

Information for pregnant women

Information in Spanish

CDC travel recommendations in Spanish

Information in Portuguese

Zika Communication Materials in English and Portuguese

Zika Fact Sheet in Portuguese