The Zika virus has gained a lot of attention as the number of people being infected has increased over the past 2 years. The Zika virus has been reported throughout Costa Rica as it is being spread to residents and tourists by infected mosquitos. While it is a scary illness that targets the most vulnerable, it is key for travelers visiting Costa Rica to educate themselves on the Zika virus, know of potential risks and how to protect yourself from being infected.
Zika in Costa Rica
There have been multiple cases of people being infected by the Zika virus in Costa Rica. The majority of cases are the Punaternas county (iii) and along the Caribbean coast. While the infected mosquitos are found throughout the country, the mosquitos that spread Zika do not live at altitudes above 6,500 feet. So if your travel plans are located in central Costa Rica at higher altitudes, your risk of being infected are minimal. Check out this map that shows areas above and below 6,500 feet in Costa Rica to help with planning your travels.
The government in Costa Rica has taken the risk of Zika very seriously. They have developed a strong campaign to try and eliminate any mosquito sources. Out of 697,871 breeding areas in the country, 230,879 were completely eliminated and 466,871 were treated by cleaning the area. (i)
If you are bitten by an infected mosquito, you will most likely not even know you have the Zika virus. Many people do not get sick or only have mild symptoms. The CDC reports that only 1 in 5 people will get sick and the most common symptoms of the Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. The illness is normally mild with the symptoms lasting from several days and up to a week.
Out of adults who are infected by the Zika virus, a small percentage may develop Guilain-Barre syndrome. This is a rare condition where the immune system attacks the nervous system which can cause weakness and even paralysis. While the CDC has not discovered a direct link between the Zika virus and this syndrome, they say it is strongly associated.
Pregnancy and Zika Virus
The most dangerous impact of the Zika virus is its effect on pregnancies. If a pregnant woman is infected with the Zika virus, she can pass it on to her unborn child. This infection can cause serious birth defects such as microcephaly, blindness, deafness, difficulties in motor development and learning.
If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy, avoid travel to areas infected with the Zika virus and talk to your health care provider about the disease. If your husband or partner is traveling to Costa Rica, use protection throughout the duration of the pregnancy to stop any transmission of the virus. Costa Rica has had 6 confirmed cases of babies being born with birth defects because of the Zika virus.
Preventing Zika virus
If you are planning on traveling to areas in Costa Rica affected by Zika, the best way protect yourself is to avoid being bitten from mosquitos. The mosquito that carries the Zika virus in Costa Rica is the female Aedes Aegypti and it is most active during the day (iii). While outside, wear long sleeve shirts and pants that are made out of thicker material. Also, use mosquito repellent that contains deet throughout your time outside.
Mosquitos breed in or near standing water so avoid these areas as much as possible. If you live near standing water, clean or turn the water once a week to prevent mosquito breeding sources.
In addition to preventing mosquito bites, travelers to these areas also need to practice safe sax since Zika is sexually transmitted. Even after you leave the country, you can still pass on the Zika virus to your partner. It is important to know the Zika virus lasts up to 6 months in male semen and is easier to pass from male-to-female. Use caution when traveling to infected areas and use condoms or abstinence to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
While the Zika virus is a real and scary concern, travelers shouldn’t panic. Inform yourself on how to prevent mosquito bites while visiting Costa Rica and use caution if you do become infected with the virus. Use a lot of bug spray and birth control when visiting Costa Rica, but Zika isn’t a reason to stop traveling to the land of Pura Vida.
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