Zika virus could affect Canadians travelling south this winter

One laboratory-confirmed case of the Zika virus on P.E.I. last year

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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Islanders heading south this winter might want to bundle up for another reason.

The Zika virus in Canadian travellers retuning from countries in the Caribbean or Central America is more common and more severe than observed in previous reports, says a recent study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal published earlier this month.

As of March 9, 478 travel-related cases and three sexually transmitted cases of Zika virus in Canada, including 28 pregnant women, have been reported.

There has been one laboratory-confirmed case of the Zika virus on P.E.I. last year due to someone travelling to a risk area, says Dr. Heather Morrison, chief public health officer on P.E.I.

“I think the timing is really good for trying to get the recommendations out in terms of how people could protect themselves if they are going down south.”

The Zika virus is primarily spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.  Symptoms virus can include fever, headache, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and skin rash, along with joint and muscle pain. The illness is typically mild and lasts only a few days. The majority of those infected do not have symptoms.

Morrison said because there is no vaccine or medication that protects against the Zika virus, she cautions travellers to protect themselves before travel.

She sent physicians on the Island updates about the Zika virus from the chief public health office at various times, with the most recent one in February, she said.

I think the timing is really good for trying to get the recommendations out in terms of how people could protect themselves if they are going down south.Dr. Heather Morrison

“Travellers who are going to the infected regions should protect themselves from mosquito bites with protective clothing and appropriate insect repellant.”

Additionally, Island women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should postpone travel to areas where the Zika virus is circulating, she said.

“Women coming back, whether they’re symptomatic or not, should avoid becoming pregnant for two months after returning from a risk area.”

Harun Sadat is a Holland College student who travels frequently to the Caribbean for volunteer work and to visit family. He says he’s really careful when he travels to risk areas.

“I don’t really think there is anything to worry about if you are careful about your diet. We always buy bottled water when we are there, and we don’t eat meat — just vegetarian dishes.”

Due to his precautions, Sadat says he’s not worried about contracting the virus.

“It doesn’t really make me scared or anything, just makes me think of maybe going to my doctor for my next travel and asking about shots or advice.”

The next update on the virus in Canada can be found on the Pubic Health Agency of Canada’s site on April 6.

If you notice symptoms or suspect infection of this virus, contact your local health care provider.

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