Spring break travelers should be sure to pack Zika virus precautions

As college students and families, pack for Spring Break vacations that might take them to popular destinations where the Zika virus is being spread by mosquito, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reminding them to exercise caution.

“We certainly want college kids on Spring Break and other travelers to enjoy themselves,” said Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Van T. Mitchell. “We just want them to remember to pack with protecting themselves in mind. The confirmed Zika virus cases in Maryland so far have occurred during travel abroad.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika virus is chiefly spread through mosquito bites, though less frequently, transmission via sexual contact, blood transfusion and to newborns during pregnancy has been documented.

Because of the chance of a link between Zika and the microcephaly birth defect, characterized by smaller heads and underdeveloped brains in newborns, the CDC recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus is spreading. These areas now include several additional countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant are advised to not travel to countries with known Zika transmission. Travelers also should be sure to guard against mosquito bites for the seven days after they return home, to prevent a mosquito from passing on any potential infection. The CDC says most infected people are non-symptomatic. Men who have traveled to an area with Zika and whose partner is pregnant should use condoms every time they have sex— or they should abstain from sex— during the pregnancy.

When traveling to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes are found, travelers are advised to 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 breastfeeding 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.

If you have a baby or child:

*Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than two 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.

For more CDC information on avoiding Zika infection during travel, visit http://goo.gl/lgHuWC.