Doctors: Be mindful of Zika risks when traveling

- The outbreak of the Zika virus a few years ago caused panic worldwide, especially for expecting families because of the discovery that it could cause birth defects. The World Health Organization declared the Zika emergency over, but the virus is still circulating in parts of South America, Central America (including Mexico), and the Caribbean (including the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico). So New Yorkers planning to travel to those areas should take precautions.

Dr. Brian Saltzman, an infectious disease specialist, gave Fox 5 an update on the mosquito-borne virus, which can cause microcephaly in babies. Babies with microcephaly have smaller heads than expected and can have developmental delays.

"As we head into summer months and mosquito season again, people should be cautious about mosquito bites and certainly about travel to Zika-endemic areas," Dr. Saltzman said.

More than 1,500 pregnancies in the U.S. from women infected with Zika, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Just over 70 babies were born with birth defects, about 5 percent. Dr. Saltzman said many people infected don't even know it.

"In adults, it can just be a little viral illness, it just can be some fever, headache, rash," Dr. Saltzman said. "It can just be a very, very mild viral illness."

The doctor's advice for people who want to avoid Zika is to be cautious when traveling to a Zika-infected area. In fact, try to avoid it all together if you can. If you do have to go for whatever reason, make sure to wear long-sleeved clothing and also to have EPA-approved insect repellent, specifically containing Deet.

"Now most of the Zika that we're seeing is imported -- patients who have been traveling to Zika-endemic areas," Dr. Saltzman said. "To the Caribbean, South and Central America, and there is some Zika in Africa and there is some Zika in the Pacific Islands."

Dr. Saltzman said he believes if you're not planning to leave the New York area, you have nothing to worry about. Florida and Texas are the two U.S. states that have reported Zika cases. Although the threat is no longer there, sporadic cases can arise, Dr. Saltzman said, so always be cautious and prepared.

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