Wisconsinites should be mindful of Zika when traveling

Wisconsin is not home to Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus, the two members of the mosquito family known to transmit the Zika Virus. However, as colder weather settles in, Wisconsinites should be mindful of their plans to visit warmer climates where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are known to exist, which include popular vacation destinations like Florida and Texas.

As of December 7, 2016, fifty-three cases of Zika Virus have been confirmed in Wisconsin. All are related to travel or sexual transmission from partners who traveled to Zika-affected areas.

The Zika Virus can have profoundly detrimental effects when transmitted from mother to fetus, including microcephaly (extremely small head) caused by improper brain development, as well as blindness and deafness.

Kathleen Antony, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and global women’s health expert with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, says it is not recommended for women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant to travel to Zika-affected areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women and their male partners wait six months to attempt pregnancy following travel or possible exposure.

Antony says there’s no good way to tell how many pregnant women are traveling from Wisconsin to Zika-affected areas, because many pregnant women don’t visit travel clinics or discuss travel plans during regular appointments. Based on a survey of women who came in for routine ultrasound appointments at the UW Health-UnityPoint Meriter Center for Perinatal Care, pregnant women in the Madison area have travelled to 48 of the 50 U.S. states during the first half of pregnancy.

Florida and Texas are the 6th and 10th most popular destinations, respectively. They are also the two U.S. locations where Zika is known to have infected humans via mosquito bite.

Both the CDC and the State Laboratory of Hygiene offer free Zika Virus testing for pregnant women who have traveled to Zika-affected areas and anyone who exhibits symptoms. Not all people who contract Zika will experience symptoms, Antony said. When symptoms—which can include headache, fever, and rash—occur, they normally appear within three to 14 days and last anywhere from a few days to a week.

Notably, testing is not widely available for pregnant women’s male partners who have travelled to Zika-affected areas. This is despite the fact the Zika Virus is known to persist in semen for at least six months.

Private testing, which can cost between $100 and $500, is also available for those not covered by CDC or the State Lab, according to Antony. She recommends that women and their partners talk to their doctor about private testing.

Antony appeared on Madison’s NBC 15 News in September to discuss guidelines related to Zika Virus.

Meanwhile, UW-Madison clinicians and scientists are responding to the Zika threat with broad, interdisciplinary research efforts. Antony, ultrasonographer Sarah Kohn, and Research Division Professor Ted Golos, PhD (also Chair of Comparative Biosciences in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine), feature prominently in this video about new Zika Virus Developments at UW.

Kathleen Antony, MD

Kathleen Antony, MD
Assistant Professor (CHS)
Maternal-Fetal Medicine

University of Wisconsin
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

1010 McConnell Hall
Madison, WI 53715