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by Mia A Taormina | February 22, 2016

Dr. Mia TaorminaPlanners considering a tropical locale for their next event are wondering whether to reconsider because of Zika virus outbreaks in many warm-weather destinations. Unless you suspect members of your group are among those with the highest risk of severe complications, moving your event may not be strictly necessary.

Making an informed decision can be tough when there’s a limited amount of solid science available and we’re bombarded with images of infants facing lifelong health consequences. In my travel-medicine practice, I partner with patients to help them evaluate their personal risk in situations like this.

The Zika threat is most pronounced for two groups of travelers.

High risk: Cancel plans

• Pregnant women
Women (and their partners) who are or will be attempting to become pregnant (we don’t yet now how long the waiting period should be between Zika infection and attempting to conceive)

Medium risk: Consider postponing

• Anyone with a compromised immune system or chronic disease that makes them more susceptible to severe infection
• The very young and the elderly

For everyone else

When there’s no obvious reason to postpone travel, there are strategies to lower the risk of infection. It’s important to do what you can to avoid being bitten by the Aedes mosquito, which carries the Zika virus. Fortunately, Aedes mosquitos are poor fliers and tend to bite during the day. I recommend scheduling outdoor activities that avoid mosquitos’ feeding hours:
• Avoid daytime activities near wilderness or brush.
• Hike and bike at dawn and dusk to avoid peak mosquito activity.
• Cover up when you’re outside — long sleeves and pants double as sun protection.
• Make sure to use insect repellents — particularly those containing DEET— to enhance protection.

Dr. Mia Taormina is the chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases at DuPage Medical Group in Chicago’s Western suburbs. She is an infectious-disease and travel-medicine specialist who received her D.O. degree at Michigan State University and completed her residency and fellowship training at Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Mich.