How to protect yourself from Zika virus while traveling
Last year, Zika, a virus that potentially causes brain defects in the children of infected pregnant mothers, was identified in Brazil and several other South American countries. A year later, the virus, which does not currently have a vaccine, isn't completely gone from headlines.
On Monday, one type of Zika-transmitting mosquito was detected in Long Beach, California. NBC News reported that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the two types of mosquito that can transmit the Zika virus are in more regions of the United States than previously thought.
The mosquito found in Long Beach, the Aedes aegypti, is present in 21% more counties compared to 2015.
The other type of mosquito, the Aedes albopictus, was present in 127 new U.S. counties in 2016, which is 10% more than 2015.
What to know about Zika and travel
You can contract Zika in two ways: by getting bitten by an infected mosquito or by having sex with an infected person. Pregnant women can transmit Zika to babies, so those who are pregnant or hoping to be pregnant should be the most cautious.
For everyone else, the consequences are less dire. You can't die from Zika, but getting infected can lead to symptoms that manifest a few days after you contract the virus, the World Health Organization noted. Lasting up to a week, mild symptoms might include headaches, conjunctivitis, fever and muscle pain. And some people don't exhibit any symptoms whatsoever — the Washington Post reported that only 1 in 5 infected people get sick.
But even if you aren't symptomatic, there are dangers to getting infected. If a mosquito bites an infected person, it can carry the virus with it, and possibly infect the next people it bites. Known as "local transmission," this has happened in Florida and Texas, two states with high mosquito populations.
Heading abroad? The CDC has a map of areas of the world where travelers should take precautions against Zika. Most of the Caribbean (Aruba, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, St. Maarten) has a travel notice, as do many South American countries (Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador).
How to prevent Zika
Avoiding infected mosquitos is the most effective way to prevent the virus. The CDC recommends pregnant people (or people hoping to get pregnant soon) refrain from traveling to areas affected by Zika. (Check whether certain countries have a travel notice here.)
Health organizations in the United States are working to curb the two types of mosquitos that can potentially transmit Zika. Unlike other types of mosquitos, the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus can survive pesticides. Any standing water could be a potential breeding ground for insects, experts told the Los Angeles Times.
On an individual level, protect yourself by taking extra caution to repel mosquitos. The CDC recommends using insect repellant and wearing long pants and long shirts to protect your skin. And since mosquitos can carry other diseases like malaria or dengue fever, it's worth your while to invest in some DEET or your bug spray of choice.