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Announcements : UGA Office of International Education Memo on the Zika Virus

Announcement: UGA Office of International Education Memo on the Zika Virus

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UGA Office of International Education Memo on the Zika Virus

The Office of International Education makes reasonable efforts to respond to health and safety notices received from the Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control for Latin American countries and other worldwide locations. Further, UGA has enrolled students on UGA group study abroad programs in the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Students traveling abroad outside of group programs are required to register in the STEP program by themselves.

UGA recommends students to proactively monitor US Embassy security messages on http://travel.state.gov in case official messages and security updates are provided for their host country and/or other country destinations. Students are also encouraged to visit the U.S. Embassy websites for the countries to which they will travel, and review the information on U.S. Citizen Services at those embassies.

OIE is being advised by and working closely with UGA Health Center and its Travel Clinic staff on providing recommendations, resources, and timely updates to program directors and students pertaining to health safety in regions affected by the Zika virus. Additionally, OIE is counseled by the UGA Study Abroad Risk Management Review Board, which contributes to OIE  decision making efforts by providing emergency response in the event of an incident involving students on an UGA international program, assessing policies and procedures, and recommending suspension or relocation of programs due to significant changes in conditions of a country. Per UGA policies, there are currently no prohibitions regarding the Zika virus, such as a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning, preventing UGA study abroad travel in Latin American countries. Furthermore, the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus has stated as of February 1, 2016:
The Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus.
At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2016/emergency-committee-zika-microcephaly/en/
 
However, in light of the Alert Level 2 (Practice Enhanced Precautions) issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the Zika virus, the U.S. Embassy in Brazil has issued the statement below advising U.S. citizens in Brazil.  Students are strongly recommended to review this information, take note of future updates, and take the precautions recommended. http://brazil.usembassy.gov/other2015/zika-virus.html
The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil informs U.S. citizens of a public health concern regarding the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus.  

As with dengue and chikungunya, the main transmitter of the Zika virus is the Aedes egypti, an urban mosquito that prefers to breed in and around homes.  Large urban centers with surrounding poorer slums are ideal breeding grounds for Aedes egypti.  Once infected mosquitoes become established in an area they are hard to contain.

The Zika virus is closely related to dengue.  In 2007 the first known outbreak in humans occurred on the island of Yap in Micronesia and was followed by outbreaks in other Pacific Islands.  Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus disease in May 2015.

Zika has often been called “dengue light.”  Like dengue, only about 25 percent of those infected with Zika develop symptoms.  These may include fever, headache, arthralgia (joint complaints), conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), and a maculopapular (red raised) rash that is generally not as severe as that caused by dengue or chikungunya.  There are no hemorrhagic manifestations and no long term complications.  People rarely become ill enough to require hospitalization.  On rare occasions, there have been deaths associated with Zika infection. 

Authorities are investigating a possible association between the Zika virus outbreak and increased numbers of babies born with microcephaly, a condition characterized by small head size and associated with cognitive impairment.  As of the end of December, nine states in northeastern Brazil have reported 2,660 cases of microcephaly, a marked increase from previous years.  In 2015, the state of Pernambuco has reported 1,153 affected babies, compared with only 10 microcephalic babies reported in all of 2014.  The Zika virus was found in the amniotic fluid of two affected babies.  There is no indication that any pregnant woman needs to leave an area that has Zika infections at this time.  

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, so prevention of mosquito bites is the only way to avoid infection. Pregnant women in particular should employ good personal protective measures to minimize the risk of Zika and other mosquito borne infections. These measures include use of CDC recommended topical repellants such as DEET or Picaridin, keeping arms and legs covered when outdoors, and use of permethrin-treated fabrics for clothing and tents.   

Up-to-date information on the Zika virus, including the possible association between Zika virus and microcephaly, is available at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/.
Detailed information on protection against mosquito bites is available at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2016/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods.

To obtain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel notices, call the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) from within the United States or 1-404-639-3534 from overseas or visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
 
The CDC released updated recommendations and guidance for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus on March 25, 2016. If you are planning travel to locations with reported cases of Zika, text 'PLAN' to 855-255-5606 for Zika travel updates from the CDC. More information about CDC updates regarding Zika is available at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/, and you can watch an informative video from CNN pertaining to these updates at http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/25/health/zika-cdc-recommendations/index.html. Latest updates include:
 
  1. Men and their nonpregnant sex partners (couples) who want to reduce the risk for sexual transmission of Zika virus should use condoms consistently and correctly during sex or abstain from sex. Based on expert opinion and limited but evolving information about the sexual transmission of Zika virus, the recommended duration of consistent condom use or abstinence from sex depends on whether men had confirmed infection or clinical illness consistent with Zika virus disease and whether men are residing in an area with active transmission.
  2. Women who have possible Zika exposure or symptoms or living in areas with Zika should wait at least 8 weeks and talk with their healthcare provider before trying to get pregnant.
  3. Men who have possible Zika exposure or living in areas with Zika should wait at least 8 weeks after exposure and talk with their healthcare provider before trying to get pregnant. Men experiencing Zika symptoms after possible Zika exposure or living in areas with Zika should wait at least 6 months after symptoms start and talk with their healthcare provider before trying to get pregnant.
An abbreviated update from TRAVAX on March 9, 2016 states:

The second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, the expert committee convened by WHO, was held on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. WHO stated that there is an association between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly and other documented birth abnormalities. The experts then defined the types of studies needed to establish a causal relationship but recommended that strong public health actions should not wait for definitive scientific proof. An increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases has occurred in 9 countries, and a well-conducted case-control study in French Polynesia has provided very strong evidence for the association. WHO now recommends that pregnant women (in any trimester) from non-affected areas should not travel to Zika-affected areas. The WHO Director-General stated, "All of this news is alarming."
 
Four countries (U.S., France, Italy, and Argentina) have now reported locally acquired infection, probably through sexual transmission. Sexual transmission appears more common than previously thought but the frequency is unclear.

In addition, all UGA students studying abroad on UGA programs are enrolled in our mandatory study abroad insurance plan, provided by Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI). CISI has provided the following advice:
“The CDC recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, and that pregnant women consult their doctor before departing if travel is unavoidable. Women who are trying to become pregnant should consult their doctor before departing. All travelers should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. … As weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and socks, or use insect protection containing DEET, picaridin, or another approved repellent. Remove standing water on premises to reduce the number of biting mosquitoes. Pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant should consult a doctor before travel. All travelers should seek medical attention if symptoms develop within two weeks of being in affected areas.”
CISI has issued a CISI Alert regarding the Zika virus in Thailand, with a “Moderate Risk” status:
As of 2nd February 2016, Thailand confirmed its first locally acquired case of zika virus. No death has been reported yet. The virus was first discovered in Thailand in 2012 and is said to infect approximately 5 patients every year. A world health emergency has been declared in Thailand and travelers are advised to be cautious while traveling to the affected regions.
Outbreak News Today http://outbreaknewstoday.com/dengue-in-thailand-tops-5000-cases-in-1st-month-locally-acquired-zika-case-reported-13797/
Details of the CISI coverage can be viewed online via the Health and Safety section of the UGA Education Abroad website at http://goabroad.uga.edu.  Our CISI plan provides for 24/7 medical and travel assistance to students abroad, as well as Emergency Medical Evacuation and Security Evacuation coverage. 

In the event UGA becomes aware of a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for any areas impacted by Zika or should further health and safety developments indicate the need to suspend a UGA study abroad program, UGA, the Office of International Education and its Risk management Board will work with students to identify necessary support.