Zika Virus and the University of Manitoba
Message from Susan M. Gottheil, Vice-Provost (Students)

Update, April 8, 2016

As some members of the University community may be traveling to areas in which there is concern about possible exposure to the Zika virus, this message is intended to provide you with the latest advisories from Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors (MHHLS), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Zika virus infection is of concern because of increasing evidence that it is a cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome, birth defects (i.e. microcephaly), and other neurological disorders.

Considerations prior to traveling:

  • It is recommended that pregnant women avoid travel to affected areas and those women attempting to conceive should delay travel to areas where the Zika virus is circulating in the Americas. If travel cannot be postponed, then strict mosquito bite prevention measures should be followed to protect themselves against bites.
  • As symptoms of Zika infection can mirror those of influenza, travelers are strongly encouraged to obtain a seasonal vaccination prior to departure.

Considerations upon returning:

  • Abstinence or condom use is recommended for two months for women and six months for men upon return from an affected area given increasing evidence regarding the role of sexual transmission of the Zika virus.
  • Pregnant women with a history of travel to or residence in area affected by ongoing Zika virus transmission should consider condom use or abstinence for the duration of their pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women with a history of travel to an area currently impacted by the outbreak who report two or more of the common symptoms during travel or within two weeks after returning should be tested for ZIKA virus infection.
  • Testing for the Zika virus is now available in Canada. However, due to limited capacity, priority will be given to pregnant women, both symptomatic and asymptomatic with a relevant travel history.

The University of Manitoba is closely monitoring advisories from Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors (MHHLS), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the Zika virus outbreak in countries of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. As members of our university community travel to these countries, this message is being provided to inform you of some potential risks associated with the Zika virus and steps you can take to reduce the risk.

At the current time, WHO, PHAC, and MHHLS advise that:

  • There should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission,
  • Travellers to areas with Zika virus transmission should be provided with up to date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites,
  • It is recommended that pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant discuss their travel plans with their health care provider to assess their risk and consider postponing travel to areas where the Zika virus is circulating in the Americas. If travel cannot be postponed, then strict mosquito bite prevention measures should be followed to protect themselves against bites.

What is it?

The Zika virus is transmitted by a mosquito bite from infected Aedes mosquitoes, which are distributed widely throughout the tropics and subtropics. They bite during the day and early evening.

What are the symptoms?

About 80% of affected individuals are asymptomatic. Those who develop symptoms usually develop a mild, self- limiting disease, resolving within 7 days of symptom onset. Symptoms generally appear 3-14 days following a bite from an infected mosquito. Symptoms commonly include: acute onset of low grade fever (38.5C or lower), rash, joint pains, conjunctivitis. Less common symptoms have included muscle aches, weakness, lethargy and headaches.

There is a speculative association between the Zika virus and birth defects. There is evidence to suggest that pregnant women are either more susceptible or develop more severe presentations.

What is the treatment?

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the Zika virus infection.

How can I reduce the chances of Zika virus infection?

Prevention is key. Travelers to outbreak regions should use appropriate mosquito repellants, such as those containing DEET or Icaridin, wear protective clothing, and use bed nets. Every effort should be made to keep mosquitoes out of living areas by ensuring doors are closed, window screens are in good repair and using air conditioning.

Here are some links with additional information:

Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors:
gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/diseases/zika.html

Public Health Agency of Canada:
healthycanadians.gc.ca/diseases-conditions-maladies-affections/disease-maladie/zika-virus/index-eng.php

World Health Organization:
paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11640%3A2016-who-statement-on-1st-meeting-ihr-2005-emergency-committee-on-zika-virus&Itemid=135&lang=en

Local sources for general information about Zika virus infection:

Health Links 24-hour phone line at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257 or visit wrha.mb.ca/healthinfo/healthlinks with any questions or concerns.

University of Manitoba Health and Wellness Educator (Katie Kutryk, RN BN) for information at 204-295-9032 or visit umanitoba.ca/student/health-wellness

University Health Service, 105 University Centre, 204-474-8411. umanitoba.ca/student/health/uhs_appointments.html