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How is the CDC Working to Protect Americans from Travel-associated Zika Infections?


Stephen Redd, MD (RADM, USPHS), Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares how the CDC is working to protect Americans from travel-associated Zika infections and touches on preparations for the Olympics.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability):

“We actually have Zika in the United States right now from travelers who have been in countries that have mosquito-borne transmission. People have become infected and have come back to the United States. So, the problem actually is here. Hundreds of cases in the United States have been diagnosed. I think this is a lot more apparent for people with Zika than it is for some of the other virus where the same thing happens [such as] Chikungunya. Most people probably haven’t heard of Chikungunya but the same thing is true that it is not transmitted by mosquitoes in the United States, but there is a lot of travel to places where the virus is transmitted.
The first thing is to know where those places are and then for people who are pregnant or who might be pregnant to not go there. That’s an aspect of Zika that’s been challenging [in terms of communication]. In most of these emergencies that we talked about, people are dying and in the case of Ebola [for example], there’s this long history of people fearing the disease.
For Zika, we’re in the opposite situation where we have not thought it was a serious problem, and for adults who are not pregnant, in general, it is not a serious problem. It’s a very specific risk group, which is pregnant women and their fetuses and their babies. There’s a narrow zone for disease that for the most part, would not be of serious concern, but there’s tremendous concern because of the very severe birth defect.
For the Olympics, the guidance really isn’t different than it is for other travel in that people who are pregnant or who might be pregnant should not go to places where Zika virus is being transmitted. One fortunate occurrence is that [since] Rio is in the Southern Hemisphere, the time of year that the Olympics will take place will be winter there and so there will be fewer mosquito-borne diseases in general. It will probably be the low season for Zika. It is for Dengue.
The overall travel to the Olympics is a small part of travel to Zika areas and so we don’t think the risk to the rest of the world is being especially increased by the Olympics.”
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