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Service members both deployed and traveling abroad must take extra precautions not to be infected with the Zika virus that is currently affecting the Americas. Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries.

Photo by James Gathany

Know the risks: The Zika virus

8 Feb 2016 | Sgt. Dengrier Baez Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

 The Navy and Marine Corps are composed of service members from all around the U.S. with backgrounds from all around the world. Service members and their families who are planning to travel must take more precautions when doing so because of outbreaks of viruses.

 Since its discovery in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus was known as a mild illness but that changed in 2015. An outbreak in the Americas, originating in Brazil, is suspected of causing cases of a serious birth defect, microcephaly, and a potentially crippling disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 Outbreaks of Zika have also occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries. 

 In December 2015, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, reported its first confirmed Zika virus case. Local vector-borne transmission of Zika has not been reported elsewhere in the United States, but cases of the virus have been reported in returning travelers according to the CDC. 

 According to the CDC, most people infected with Zika virus have no symptoms. About one in five people infected will develop mild symptoms lasting several days to a week. Symptoms typically appear two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

 If a person is infected they might show the following symptoms: fever, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain, rash, headache and joint pain. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon according to the CDC.

 Navy and Marine Corps personnel, and their families, are at risk when travelling to areas experiencing ongoing Zika virus transmission. Infection risk is reduced by taking measures to avoid mosquito bites. Local transmission of Zika virus has not been reported in the United States according to the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center.

 The following steps are recommended if you must travel to an area with ongoing Zika virus transmission:
  • Choose a hotel or lodging with air conditioning or with screens on windows and doors.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net if you are outside or in a room that is not well screened.
  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. These are safe for pregnant women when used as directed.
 Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. There have been reports of birth defects and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with the virus while pregnant. Until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for the following groups:
  • Pregnant women should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. Until we know more, if your male sexual partner has traveled to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission, you should abstain from sex or use condoms the right way every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex for the duration of the pregnancy. 
  • Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare professional before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
 Scientists at the CDC and the Pan American Health Organization are working with public health experts in Brazil and other affected countries to investigate the possible link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly according to the CDC.

 For more information, visit the CDC web site at or Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s web site at