Infectious Disease Expert: If you’re not pregnant, there’s little to worry about with Zika

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Without the right information, planning a trip anywhere can be a little scary. Dr. Stephen Gluckman—Professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Global Medicine, Medical Director—shed some light on the current Zika outbreak and give his advice for travelers. Dr. Gluckman has been in the practice of both General Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases for more than 45 years and is the recipient of more than 20 teaching awards.


Dr. Gluckman, tell us about the Zika virus?

Zika has actually been around for decades. It was first discovered in the rhesus macaque monkey in the Zika forest in Uganda in the 1947, and the first human case was detected in Africa in 1952.

There is a probable association between Zika and birth defects such as microcephaly, so for woman who are pregnant, Zika is certainly cause for concern. For those who are not pregnant, however, there is little reason to be alarmed.  Most people who contract Zika do not show symptoms and, for the 20 percent who are symptomatic, the typical scenario is five to seven days of mild illness that includes fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.


How worried should people be about Zika? 

Except for pregnant woman or those trying to conceive, Zika is simply not dangerous for most people and shouldn’t worry the general population.


What do you think about all the media coverage and attention given to Zika?

I’m certainly not trying to minimize the impact or concerns of Zika on pregnancies, but for the rest of the population, I think it’s important to keep the risk of Zika in perspective.  As a physician, I focus on the facts, not hype, and the fact is Zika is not something most people need to be concerned about.


Bottom line: Is it safe to travel to countries with the Zika virus is active?

Yes, it’s safe to travel as long as you’re not pregnant and you follow the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.


What advice do you have for people with plans to visit tropical destinations like Puerto Rico?

Check the CDC website for any updated information, follow their guidelines, and take common sense precautions — apply bug spray with DEET, Permethrin on clothing, and wear proper clothing.