By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
The Zika virus is now here in the continental United States, specifically Miami, Fla. There are several confirmed cases of Zika infections, all thought to have been contracted from the bite of mosquitoes in early July. The cases are clustered in a northern area of Miami. Although there have not been any mosquitoes in Miami that have tested positive for the Zika virus, epidemiologists do not think that is unusual, as the mosquitoes that were presumably infected may have already died (they have a short life cycle). Large scale testing of trapped mosquitoes in Florida is continuing.
Because the Zika virus only causes symptoms in about 20 percent of those infected (80 percent of people will never show symptoms although being infected), the health department is working to see if there may be even more cases in the Miami area. They are doing door to door surveillance in some zip codes and obtaining screening urine specimens checking for the virus. At the same time, due to the fact that the Zika virus may be spread from blood and body fluids, the donated blood supply in Miami is being screened for Zika prior to being used.
Many of the families I care for vacation in Florida in the summer, especially along the Gulf Coast. I have received a number of phone calls from expectant mothers, as well as some who are trying to conceive, asking if they should even go to Florida. This is a tough question. For the time being, seeing that Texas does not yet have any locally acquired Zika virus, I told them that I would probably err on the side of caution and change my beach travel plans.
Here is my rationale. Why risk going to the beach, with your family and children (who are going to spend most of their time outside), in a state known to have the Aedes aegypti mosquito and now confirming the first cases of locally acquired Zika? The anxiety that is associated with the possibility of getting a mosquito bite (despite using insect repellent and trying to wear protective clothing, which is difficult at the beach) is just not worth it. Worrying for weeks after returning from vacation and never truly knowing if you might have been exposed (remember most people will not become ill when infected), and wondering if you should not conceive? Or worrying at every OB appointment that your fetus is developing normally because you went to the beach in Florida a month ago? I just can’t think of a reason to go through all of that for a week at the beach.
With that being said, I now have four mothers who have decided to cancel their vacation plans and stay home. The effects of the Zika virus on a developing fetus are life long, and a vacation is just a fun-filled week. So why not make a few memories this summer with a staycation? No anxiety, right? Let’s see what happens in Florida and other southern states as this situation continues to evolve.
In the meantime, get rid of standing water and use your insect repellent wherever you live!
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)
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