Zika Season Is Never Over

The Zika story will take a while to unfold in the Chicago area, but you should be aware of a couple of important things now.

One is that the hazards are only for particular individuals and circumstances. No epidemic looms here. But for those who could be affected, it's a serious concern. 1.3 million travelers from Zika-affected countries debarked in Chicago during the most recently tallied year.

Our office spoke with Dr. Stephanie Black, Medical Director of Chicago's Communicable Disease Program. "The risk of locally transmitted Zika virus for residents is basically negligible," she told us, "because the primary species of mosquito that transmits the virus is not native to Chicago and can't survive our cold winters."

But Zika is linked to profound birth defects, she adds, so pregnant women should avoid any non-essential travel to affected countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. And, as of this writing, Miami and surrounding Dade County. Women should wait eight weeks after exposure to conceive.  For the latest guidance on affected areas visit cdc.gov/zika/geo/      

And if you plan to become pregnant, don't sleep with someone who's been to any of those countries unless your partner uses a condom. Sexual contact can also spread this virus. Exposed men, whether they have symptoms or not, should wait six months before attempting to conceive a child.

"It may put a monkey wrench in someone's honeymoon plans," Dr. Black concedes. "This really calls for people to do some good family planning with their physicians."

At my Oak Park practice, travel medicine -- including the risk of infectious disease -- is always on the agenda. If you plan travel abroad -- or to plenty of places in the U.S., in the case of Lyme disease -- a comprehensive, unhurried conversation with your doctor is definitely called for. We offer our members no-delay, no-rush office visits and quick access to the doctor via cell phone and email, as well as a very thorough, 2.5-hour annual physical exam. It includes consultation with a dietitian and a professional physical trainer.

Zika's still bristling with unknowns. Some early research -- still being assessed -- is showing impacts among infected adults, but we don't know how often it occurs. "These cases of central nervous system illness are concerning and need more research," Black told us. 

Another uncertainty is whether climate change will bring the mosquitos that carry the virus to our area more routinely in the future. "Hopefully, by that time we'll have a vaccine," Dr. Black says.