Safe Travel Tips
The CDC issued a travel warning in January 2016 and shortly after, in February, the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency because of the correlation between Zika infection and microcephaly. Other sequelae have not yet been identified, but Tulane experts agree that further research and observation of the families involved in the current outbreak could reveal additional health consequences for babies.
Travel medicine doctor and infectious disease specialist Susan McLellan, MD, MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine at the School of Medicine, says that she is fielding numerous questions from Tulane students and faculty as they plan to go abroad, and has been invited to speak to the media and area hospitals about Zika virus.
Essentially, she says, her recommendations are the same as those issued by the WHO and CDC. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid Zika-affected areas for now, or postpone getting pregnant. Additionally, because there is a small risk of sexual transmission of Zika, men should use condoms or abstain from sex during and after travel to Zika-affected areas. This risk of sexual transmission might last as long as six months after a man has been infected
Women, Pregnancy, and Zika in Brazil
As soon as cases of microcephalic infants drew the world’s attention, governments in South American issued recommendations to women to avoid pregnancy. These recommendations were issued without any research into women’s perspectives or degree of control over their fertility, points out Carl Kendall, PhD, director of the Center for Global Health Equity at the school. Kendall and his team have established relationships with researchers in Brazil through other surveillance and evaluation projects related to HIV and leprosy.
Kendall says that as soon as he saw those recommendations, he wondered how they might affect women’s decision-making about sex and pregnancy.
So far he has put in proposal for three grants “to follow a cohort of women in Fortaleza, Brazil, to see what issues they face surrounding control of their fertility,” he says. The cohort he envisions could also help researchers understand all the impacts of Zika on pregnancy and babies, since many women in the area are currently pregnant or likely to become pregnant during the study period. Kendall wants to see what difference Zika virus infection, or fear of the virus, makes for women thinking about pregnancy.
Fortaleza, like many cities throughout South and Central America, faces other challenges with respect to Zika, Kendall explains, including a need for education about how the virus is transmitted and how to effectively control mosquitoes at the community level. All this research and education will have to happen in an unstable civic context, as Brazil’s government is facing significant upheavals over its leadership while at the same time gearing up for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“There’s a lot of buzz on the street about Zika, but no real knowledge,” explains Kendall.
Researchers throughout the school of public health, the school of medicine, and the primate research center are working to change that.