The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in collaboration with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is urging travelers to protect themselves from mosquito bites and help prevent the spread of Zika virus. As of this date, no locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in Georgia or anywhere in the United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel warnings for 41 countries and some U.S. territories where there is ongoing Zika virus transmission, and that list continues to grow. There are many Georgia companies with worldwide business interests which necessitate frequent travel to these areas. In addition, many of these places are popular tourist destinations, including the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
“As the region’s global gateway we believe it is our responsibility to work with our health partners to educate the public about Zika virus,” said Miguel Southwell, general manager, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “The safety and security of our guests and employees at Hartsfield-Jackson is a top priority. “
Signs have been placed throughout the airport, at the U.S. Customs area, and at baggage claim alerting travelers about Zika virus and offering protection and prevention measures when traveling to Zika-affected areas. At the request of ATL and DPH, airport concessionaires have stocked and made available for purchase EPA-registered insect repellents. Travelers should be aware that insect repellents with at least 20% to 30% DEET are recommended and not all products containing DEET meet that standard, particularly those sold outside of the United States.
There are urgent concerns about Zika virus infection being passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy and a link to birth defects. Pregnant women should not travel to areas where there is Zika virus transmission. Studies also are ongoing to determine if there is a link between Zika virus infection and Guillain-Barré syndrome and other neurological disorders. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika.
“I understand that travel to Zika-affected areas will continue, but what I ask is that individuals protect themselves from mosquito bites,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Most people with Zika virus never know they are infected so it is important for everyone going to countries where there are Zika outbreaks to guard against mosquito bites while they travel and after they return.”
Zika virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Both species are found in Georgia. Individuals should continue to use EPA-registered insect repellents for three weeks after returning home from travel to Zika affected countries. Even if they do not feel sick, travelers returning to Georgia from an area with Zika should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks so they do not spread Zika to local, uninfected mosquitoes.