During the winter months when many people consider traveling to locations with warmer temperatures, it is important to review with them the need to protect themselves and their children from vector-borne diseases spread by mosquito bites.  As public health officials in Kentucky continue to monitor reports of the various infections that can be acquired from the bite of an infected mosquito, emerging infections or diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika virus disease have rapidly expanded their geographic distribution.  Infection with chikungunya has most recently been detected in humans in Central and South America including the Caribbean Islands.  Dengue fever has also been seen in new outbreaks in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Hawaii.  Zika virus disease has been increasing in recognition in Brazil, Mexico and most recently in Puerto Rico and Texas.  For these reasons, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to advise travelers to Central America, South America, the Caribbean, or Mexico to protect themselves and their family members from mosquito bites.

These arbovirus infections are all carried by Aedes species mosquitoes whose bite transmits the virus to humans.  An Aedes species mosquito is known to bite aggressively.  These mosquito-borne illnesses are spread after a mosquito becomes infected with the bite of a previously infected person; and then, the infected Aedes species mosquito spreads the virus by biting other people.

While all of these infections can cause varying degrees of illness and disability including neurological manifestations, most recently infection with Zika virus has created additional concern due to the potential association between acute infection in pregnant women and microcephaly in newborns.  According to an investigation in Brazil, the greatest risk of microcephaly or congenital abnormalities in newborns was associated with Zika virus infection in the first trimester of pregnancy.  Therefore, it would be appropriate to advise pregnant women to take extra precautions to prevent mosquito bites while traveling to Central America, South America, the Caribbean, or Mexico in 2016.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health recommends all travelers take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.  Persons are strongly advised to protect themselves by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and using approved insect repellents.  CDC has additional information online on how travelers can protect themselves and their family members from mosquito bites: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html.

If you have additional questions about these emerging infectious diseases, want to report suspected cases, or want to request laboratory testing for chikungunya, dengue, and Zika virus disease, please contact the Kentucky Department for Public Health at 888-9REPORT FREE (888-973-7678).


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