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Local US Zika Outbreaks Complicate Travel

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Post By Danielle Schroth

August 9, 2016

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control issued a dire warning – pregnant women should not travel to a 16-block radius within one Florida neighborhood where 14 cases of Zika caused by local mosquitoes have been reported.

Without a vaccine or cure on the horizon, and with new, unexpected pathways for infection emerging, public health officials are ramping up their travel warnings and recommendations.

The Florida declaration comes on the heels of recommendations against international travel to countries where Zika was spreading, like Brazil, where the Olympics are scheduled to start in the capital city Rio de Janeiro.

While concerns regarding ZIKV transmission have made women hesitant to travel outside the US, according to a series of InCrowd tracking surveys conducted of OB/GYNs and patients in February, April, and June 2016, and before the Florida outbreaks, concerns had not yet translated to travel within the US. As of June, the majority (57 percent) of women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy were still open to traveling to the eight-state region which the CDC has considered high-risk for prevalence of mosquito species known to carry Zika.

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In general, the surveys have found that fears of travel among patients have gone up and down since February, and reached an all-time high in June as the threat of the Zika virus encroached on American territory and the definitive link between ZIKV and microcephaly was declared. Largely, physicians have remained steadfast in their advice against travel for pregnant women and women considering pregnancy, since the virus was first declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in February.

Across all three survey waves, over 90 percent of OB/GYNs said that in light of current ZIKV concerns, they are advising patients not to travel to certain countries while pregnant or attempting to become pregnant. Additionally, as new research suggests the possibility of sexual transmission, 77 percent of OB/GYNs polled in June said they are also asking patients about the travel of their partner or spouse.

The majority of patients surveyed claimed they plan to avoid travel to certain countries (65 percent) and tropical destinations (74 percent) in order to avoid ZIKV.

For the first time in June, with breaking news at the time around the possibility of sexual transmission, we also began asking patients about the travel plans of their spouse or partner. Less than half (47 percent) of women in the US who are pregnant or who are considering becoming pregnant said that their significant others would avoid traveling to certain regions specifically due to concerns related to ZIKV.  

When it comes to international travel, many patients seem to have heard the clarion call. But what will this mean for local travel and the risks involved? We will continue to closely follow the developments in Florida and across the US to see how OB/GYNs and public health officials respond, and how patients react.

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