For many people, taking a vacation during off-peak times is a smart way to save money while traveling. But with the WHO declaring Zika a public health emergency and the CDC issuing alerts for visiting areas where Zika is spreading, the Zika virus pandemic is raising major concerns for travelers, particularly those heading to impacted countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. If you’ll be packing your bags this fall, here are 4 things to know before heading into a Zika zone.

1. What is Zika virus?

Zika is a mosquito-borne disease, mostly spread by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito (notorious for their daytime biting). You can also get Zika from having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus. The virus is usually mild and brief — many people who contract it have no symptoms. Others experience fever, rash, joint pain and/or red eyes that resolve within a week or 2. But Zika poses a major risk to pregnant women who can pass the virus on to their unborn fetuses, resulting in complications and serious birth defects like microcephaly.

2. Where is Zika actively spreading?

Zika is currently spreading in parts of North, Central, South America, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and Florida. If you’re traveling to a Zika zone, take the time to carefully research Zika activity at your destination. Check out the Center of Disease Control’s map of Countries & Territories with Active Zika Virus Transmission and review their frequently updated travel advisories. Also be aware that travelers returning from other locations where Zika is active may be carrying the virus and should take precautions to keep it from spreading.

3. Can I go to a country where Zika is spreading?

If you’re pregnant, the CDC strongly advises against visiting areas where the virus is actively spreading. If you must travel to a Zika zone, talk to your doctor or health care provider first and follow the strictest measures for preventing bites during your trip. Partners of pregnant people who are traveling to a location with Zika should abstain from sex or use condoms for the duration of their partner’s pregnancy to ensure they don’t pass on the virus. Because Zika can cause other health issues, even to people who are not pregnant, it’s a good idea for all travelers to do what they can to prevent contracting and spreading the virus.

4. How do I prevent getting Zika while on the road?

There is currently no vaccine or other medicine available for treating the virus. If you’re traveling to a Zika zone, preventing mosquito bites remains the very best way to avoid contracting the virus.

To help prevent mosquito bites:

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil-of-lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD
  • Wear clothes that provide full coverage of the arms and legs (yes, even in the crazy heat)
  • Adults should treat their clothing, shoes, and gear with the insecticide Permethrin
  • Stay indoors in places that have air conditioning or screened windows and doors
  • Remove or treat standing/stagnant water around your home where mosquitos are likely to breed (think puddles and bird baths)

For more details on avoiding mosquito bites in Zika zones, check out the CDC’s detailed list of preventative measures. And talk to your doctor before traveling to a Zika zone so you can take all the necessary precautions to stay safe.

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about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.