Take Health Precautions When Escaping Wisconsins Chill

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Health agency has advice for travelers to avoid Zika virus and other illnesses

MADISON-Many Wisconsin residents use schools' winter breaks as a time to take a break from the Wisconsin winter. The Department of Health Services (DHS) wants to remind travelers of precautions they should take, especially if their trip is taking them to an area where the Zika virus is spreading.

"The cases of Zika virus reported in Wisconsin are all travel related, so we recommend that people who are planning a trip to a warmer climate first check this map to see if their destination is on the list of  countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission,” said State Health Officer Karen McKeown. "If your destination is listed, make sure you strictly follow these guidelines to avoid mosquito bites."

  • Use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent and apply it according to the label instructions.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and shoes, making sure to cover skin that is showing.

  • Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with an insecticide (e.g., permethrin) or DEET will give extra protection. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. If traveling to a remote area, use bed nets when sleeping.

  • The mosquitoes that can spread Zika virus primarily bite during the day, and prefer to bite indoors. Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites when spending time indoors and outdoors, and both during the day and at night.

Pregnant women should not travel to areas where Zika virus is spreading, as the virus can cause pregnancy complications and severe birth defects.

If you do travel to an area where Zika virus is spreading, you should be aware of the following recommendations:

  • Contact your doctor right away if you develop any of the common symptoms of Zika virus (fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes).

  • Women should use condoms correctly every time they have sex or abstain from sex for at least 8 weeks after traveling in order to not spread Zika virus to others. Women should also wait at least 8 weeks after traveling before trying to get pregnant.

  • Men should use condoms correctly every time they have sex or abstain from sex for at least 6 months after traveling in order to not spread Zika virus to others. Men should also wait at least 6 months after traveling before trying to conceive with their partner.

Although the two types of mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are not found in Wisconsin, the department’s Division of Public Health and its local partners continue to work on prevention and response plans related to the virus. In April, Governor Scott Walker approved a plan for additional staff positions at DHS to aid in that effort. 

There are other mosquito-borne illnesses and other conditions that travelers should guard against wherever they're planning to go this winter, or any time, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a comprehensive guide of what protections, including immunizations, are needed for specific locations.

"Even if you're staying in Wisconsin, making sure your immunizations are up to date is very important to avoid serious illness," McKeown said. "We urge everyone who needs shots or boosters to make plans to get them now before the holiday season gets into full swing."

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