Northwestern Medicine

Health Department Explains Zika Risk for Travelers

March 10, 2016

Courtesy of DeKalb County Health Department


Families or college students planning spring break vacations should be aware of the risk of Zika virus disease and take precautions to prevent mosquito bites. No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease.

The list of countries with Zika cases continues to grow, as well as some U.S. territories. Some Zika cases have been reported in the United States, and so far all of those are travel-associated. Check with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for the latest information on prevention and lists of areas with Zika cases.

When traveling to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes are found, take the following steps:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
  • Always follow the product label instructions.
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed.
  • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
  • Due to the possible sexual transmission of Zika virus, the CDC recommends the use of condoms during any sexual activity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to investigate the possible sexual transmission of Zika virus. However, the Zika virus is not known to spread through casual contact, so the public at large is at extremely low risk of transmission. The primary type of mosquito that has been found to transmit Zika virus (Aedes aegypti) is rarely found in Illinois and cannot survive our cold weather. Therefore, transmission of the virus from human-to-mosquito and then from mosquito-to-human is extremely unlikely.

If you have a baby or child:

  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or
  • Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
  • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
  • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
  • Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.

More information on how to build your own Zika Prevention Kit is available. It is also a Health Alert on the DeKalb County Health Department webpage.