Ashley Onadele, 27, and her husband, were planning the trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu in Peru this April, until she started hearing about the Zika virus
“When we first heard of [Zika], it was only really bad in Brazil,” Onadele says. In the months since, though, the virus has spread to several other countries
in South America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Onadele, a contract manager in Newark, CA, isn’t pregnant, but she hopes to be soon. “[My husband and I] want to start trying for a baby some time this year,” she says. The CDC is explicit in its recommendation that pregnant women postpone travel
to any area where Zika is spreading, but its recommendation for women trying to get pregnant
is less clear. The organisation’s website currently tells non-pregnant women (and their male partners) planning to travel to places with Zika outbreaks to talk to their healthcare providers. Based on the available evidence, a Zika infection won’t pose a risk
to a future pregnancy. But there are still many unknowns about the disease, and that’s causing some women to think twice.
As of this writing, Peru isn’t one of the countries with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika, according to the CDC. But Aedes mosquitoes, the genus that carries the disease, are found there
, and its neighbouring countries, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador are all experiencing outbreaks. Puerto Rico and many Caribbean Islands are also on the CDC’s warning list. Onadele and her husband, who were also planning a vacation to the Caribbean, decided to play it safe and cancel both of their trips. “We just didn’t think it was worth the risk and promised we would make it to Machu Picchu and Puerto Rico another year.”
Onadele may feel that she was being overly cautious cancelling a trip to a country without a listed outbreak, but Peter Hotez
, MD, PhD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, encourages the extra precautions. “The connection between Zika and microcephaly is quite real,” he says.
And whether or not Zika exposure is a risk for women who aren’t yet pregnant, but might be considering conceiving in the near future, is hazy. Not many studies have been published yet on this particular Zika outbreak, Dr. Hotez says, but if it acts similarly to dengue fever, as previous outbreaks have, you can expect a three-to-seven day incubation period followed by about a week of illness. “By then you mount an immune response including neutralising antibody and then the virus disappears from your system,” Dr. Hotez says. However, in the cases when Zika has been transmitted sexually
, it may be possible for the virus to persist for longer periods. The good news, according to The New York Times
, experts say that once non-pregnant women are infected by the virus, they are immune from future infection.