First Local Zika-related Birth Defect Reinforces Travel Advisory

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Pregnant women, women who could become pregnant and couples considering pregnancy are advised to avoid traveling to areas with known Zika transmission after a baby with the severe birth defect microcephaly was born in San Diego County.

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency reports the mother was infected with the Zika virus while traveling in a foreign country where the virus is common.

“Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and speak with a health care provider upon return,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer.

This infant is the first reported case born in San Diego County with microcephaly associated with Zika virus. Microcephaly is a condition with multiple causes where a baby’s head and brain are smaller than normal.  Children born with this condition frequently have other developmental and neurological health problems as well.  Details about the case are not being released due to privacy concerns.

As of March 24, HHSA has confirmed 87 travel-associated cases of Zika infection among San Diego County residents. This information is updated every Friday on the HHSA Zika website.  No local mosquito transmitted cases of Zika have occurred in California, though limited local transmission has occurred in Florida and Texas.

Four out of five people with Zika infection have no symptoms. People with symptoms report having fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. There is currently no vaccine or treatment for Zika other than rest and supportive care such as fluids and fever relief.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a list of countries and territories with known Zika transmission at the CDC Zika Travel Information website.  People visiting these areas should take steps to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol for long-lasting protection while traveling and for one week after returning home. If using sunscreen and insect repellent, apply sunscreen first and then the repellent. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should use an EPA-registered insect repellent according to the product label. Do not use insect repellent on infants less than two months of age.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Use air conditioning and keep windows closed if possible. If windows and doors are open, make sure screens are in good condition with no holes or tears. If mosquitoes can come indoors, sleep under a bed net.
  • Reduce the number of mosquitoes outside by emptying standing water from containers, such as flowerpots and buckets.

Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual activity as well as by mosquito bites.  Sexually active adults who travel to areas with Zika transmission should use condoms or other barriers to avoid getting or passing Zika during sex, even after they return home. Couples planning pregnancy should speak with a health care provider about a safe length of time to wait before trying to get pregnant.

HHSA advises anyone who develops symptoms of Zika infection after travel to seek medical care.

To learn more about Zika virus, several CDC websites have useful information: Zika, Zika and Pregnancy, Zika and Sexual Transmission, and Mosquito Bite Prevention.  The County of San Diego Vector Control Program also has useful information about protecting yourself and your family against mosquitoes at the Fight the Bite website.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact