Should families with infants and young children postpone travel to countries where the Zika virus is currently circulating?
February 1, 2016. Travel with infants and young children to such areas appears to be safe. There are no restrictions. Presently both the US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend restricting travel only for pregnant women and women contemplating becoming pregnant.
What is known about the Zika virus?
The virus has been linked to catastrophic and permanent damage to developing fetuses. Infection leads to small heads (microcephaly), severe brain damage and other developmental issues.
Does the virus infect only pregnant women?
No. Infection occurs at random as the result of a bite by certain mosquitoes that carry the virus. Infants, children and adults are equally susceptible. If by chance a pregnant woman becomes infected, the infection may or may not spread to her fetus. The earlier in pregnancy infection occurs, the more likely there will be damage to the fetus and the more severe the damage is likely to be.
What happens when infants, children and non-pregnant adults become infected?
In the majority of cases there are no symptoms. Only laboratory tests reveal that infection took place. Likely, once infection occurs, that person is immune for life and, for women, future pregnancies will not be affected.
If symptoms do occur, what are they?
Most commonly reported are flu-like symptoms: fever, fatigue, aches and pains, and red eyes, sometimes with pain in the back of the eyes. Symptoms may last for up to a week. The presence or absence of symptoms in the mother is not an indication of whether or not the fetus will be damaged.
Is it unusual for a virus to cause severe damage to fetuses and not to the rest of the population?
It is not unusual. Many viruses have predilections for specific parts of the body or for rapidly developing organs – such as are present in the fetus. The rubella virus is another example. It too may inflict catastrophic damage to the fetus when the mother becomes infected during pregnancy yet causes few, if any, symptoms after birth. In the massive 1964 rubella outbreak, an estimated 50,000 US pregnant women were exposed to rubella, resulting in miscarriages, stillbirths, and 20,000 babies born with heart and brain damage. When the rubella vaccine became available, these problems virtually disappeared.
Is there a cure for the Zika virus disease?
No. Vaccines are in the very early stages of development. It will be many years before they become available.
What can be done to prevent infection?
Precautionary measures against insect bites should be taken seriously. The Zika virus is one of many diseases transmitted by insects. While many such diseases are more common in the tropics (where there are no cold winters to reduce insect populations), mosquitoes and viruses exist everywhere. International travel and climate changes may play an important role in these diseases spreading widely.
The proper use of an effective insect repellent is extremely important. Products containing the following active ingredients are deemed safe for use in infants and in pregnancy. Note that there are different lower cutoff ages for infants. Check labels.
DEET (For infants, use concentrations between 20 and 30%.)
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
For further information on repellents and other insect precautions, please see:
Do infants’ safety seats on airplanes save lives?
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) strongly recommends that all infants and young children be seated in an appropriate safety seat (also referred to as a child restraint system or CRS) for air travel. But, to the dismay of many safety advocates, the FAA refuses to enact laws to mandate such seats, leaving the decision of using a CRS up to you, the parent.
1. On US airlines, children younger than two years of age may sit unrestrained on an adult’s lap. There is no airline charge for “lap infants.” Presently the vast majority of parents opt to hold infants on their laps. Children older than two years must follow the same in-flight seatbelt use regulations as adults. However, many parents ignore the regulation and have older children sitting unrestrained on their laps. You may be required to present proof of age (such as a birth certificate). However, airline personnel rarely ask for proof.
2. Infants are the only items on aircrafts that need not be battened down for takeoff, turbulence and landing. In case of severe turbulence or survivable crashes, an unrestrained 20-pound (9 kilos) infant sitting on your lap effectively and instantaneously becomes a 300-pound weight (136 kilos) that you cannot restrain. Unrestrained infants have hit the ceiling of aircrafts or been propelled several rows forward, resulting in serious injuries.
3. But air travel is extremely safe. The chances of an unrestrained infant or young child being seriously injured or killed by turbulence or in a survivable crash is far less than one in a million. About 4 million children under the age of two years fly annually on scheduled U.S. airlines. The universal use of seat belts may save one life or prevent one serious injury about every five to ten years.
4. Forcing parents to use CRSs could be counterproductive. The use of a CRS usually requires purchasing a seat for the CRS. The cost of the seat would convince many families to switch to cheaper automobile travel, a more dangerous form of transportation, potentially increasing the number of injuries/deaths of infants, says another government agency. However, this may be a bogus argument. Driving statistics include all drivers including those impaired, non-licensed, and teenagers. Presumably, adults driving children are safer drivers.
5. The cost of purchasing an airline seat for the CRS varies. The cost varies from free (rarely) to full fare, averaging about half the fare. Costs vary with airlines and availability of seats. Special rates for CRSs may not be publicized. Ask.