ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's the time of year when thoughts turn to vacation. Maybe it's a dive trip to Belize, a cruise in the Caribbean or the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The threat of Zika hangs over all these tropical getaways. The mosquito-borne virus is making its way north from South America. So if you're actually traveling to any of these places, there are some precautions you should take. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff explains.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: So the first question is, should you take this trip at all? This is really a question for couples pregnant or planning to have a baby. The real danger from Zika is birth defects, and getting infected at any time during pregnancy can be dangerous. So Dr. Marty Cetron at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, if you're pregnant, don't go.
MARTY CETRON: The most important message, and I think it's really, really key to get this out and it amplify it, is that pregnant women should avoid traveling to Zika-affected areas whenever possible.
DOUCLEFF: And even if you're not pregnant now, but trying, Cetron says couples might want to cancel their trip.
CETRON: If it were my daughter and they were actively trying to conceive, I would probably counsel them to avoid the risk of being in a Zika area, simply because you don't always really know when you're pregnant until you're maybe pretty far along.
DOUCLEFF: The CDC also recommends waiting to get pregnant after you get back from a Zika-infected area. If you didn't get sick, still wait at least eight weeks before trying. And if a man gets Zika symptoms, like a rash or a fever, the couple should wait six months.
CETRON: Because the virus can persist in semen as long as 62 days and perhaps longer.
DOUCLEFF: Zika can cause neurological complications in people other than pregnant women. These are rare, and health experts say you just need to take two precautions to lower your risk. First off...
PETER HOTEZ: Avoid sexual transmission, particularly from a male partner to a female partner.
DOUCLEFF: That's Dr. Peter Hotez at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He said scientists first thought Zika was spread almost exclusively by mosquitoes, but...
HOTEZ: We're seeing more and more cases of sexual transmission, so I think we have to continue to take that route very seriously.
DOUCLEFF: So use condoms. The second precaution is obvious - don't get bitten by mosquitoes. And the best way to do that, Hotez says, is pick the right hotel or resort.
HOTEZ: You want to make certain that you're in a place that understands the risks of Zika and that practices mosquito control at the hotel or resort.
DOUCLEFF: And that has air-conditioning.
HOTEZ: Preferentially central air-conditioning, where you don't have to worry about those box-like air-conditioners that are often porous on the sides to mosquitoes.
DOUCLEFF: Hotez says you can also stop mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks and by using bug spray. Dr. Karin Nielsen at the University of California Los Angeles says the key is long-acting bug spray. She recommends one with a compound in it called picaridin.
KARIN NIELSEN: There's a lot of experience now with this in Brazil. That's what we're - people are recommending in Brazil for pregnant women. It lasts for about 10 hours.
DOUCLEFF: And it's less toxic than DEET. If you do go with DEET, make sure it has at least 20 percent DEET in it. Then it will last about five hours. And keep using that bug spray when you get home. The CDC's Martin Cetron says many people catch Zika but don't know it. And they could pass it on to mosquitoes back here in the States.
CETRON: Nobody wants to be the one who's introduced Zika virus into their local community.
DOUCLEFF: Or be responsible for starting a whole new outbreak. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
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