ABU DHABI // Pregnant women who have travelled to areas affected by the Zika virus should see a doctor even if they show no symptoms, health experts advise.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that usually causes mild symptoms. Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus develop symptoms such as fever, skin rash, pink eyes and pain in the muscles and joints, which normally last for two to seven days.
“Because of the way the virus is spreading, the [US] Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have advised asymptomatic pregnant women who have travelled to areas where there is Zika to see a doctor,” said Dr Jhuma Lodha, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Brightpoint Royal Women’s Hospital.
“If a woman finds out after her travels that she is pregnant, she should also consult a physician.”
The World Health Organisation says the best protection against the virus is avoiding bites by using mosquito repellent, wearing light-coloured clothes covering as much of the body as possible, ensuring there are insect screens on windows and doors, and sleeping under nets.
“It is safe for pregnant women to spray insecticide in their environment,” Dr Lodha said.
She said the Aedes mosquito, which can carry the virus, bites mostly in the day. Pregnant women can use ointments of natural oils.
Products that contain diethyltoluamide, or Deet, are effective.
Dr Fanie Jute, regional medical director for International SOS, a global health company, said insect repellents containing Deet were registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency as safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Dr Jute said pregnant women should consult their doctors for an individual risk assessment and advice before considering any travel, regardless of destination.
This assessment is based on the patient’s health status, including the obstetric history, how far they are into their pregnancy and high-risk conditions.
“Besides the infectious risks of any destination, it is also important to consider the standard of available health care, and the availability of obstetric and neonatal specialist support should it be required,” he added.
“Travellers are advised to consult travel health medical professionals well in advance of a trip, to receive an individual risk assessment based on the traveller’s needs, schedule and destination. This is the time to be educated about health risks relevant during the trip and at the destination, to successfully mitigate risks,” said Dr Jute.
Dr Ala Alwan, the WHO’s director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said this week that no Zika cases had been reported yet.
“But this obviously does not mean we are safe from the disease. Our surveillance systems need to be strengthened for the early detection of any potential importation,” Dr Alwan said.
He earlier said that the region was at risk because the mosquito spreading the virus could be found in many regional countries.
“Prevention against this threat begins at home,” Dr Alwan said. “Some simple measures can protect you and your family from this infection.
“Clean and empty stagnant water at least every two to three days from places where these mosquitoes exist in or near our houses.”
UAE airports have taken measures including use of pesticides to stop transmission of the Zika virus from affected countries.