24 June 2016

NSW Health is urging travellers heading to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to plan ahead and take precautions to reduce the risk of contracting travel-related infections, including Zika virus.

NSW Director of Health Protection, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said those planning to attend the Olympics should visit their GP or a travel doctor four to six weeks before departure to ensure they have all the necessary vaccinations and advice to reduce the risk of contracting infections while travelling overseas.

“Brazil is one of many countries in South America and around the world currently experiencing an outbreak of Zika virus, an infection which can cause serious birth defects if contracted when pregnant,” Dr McAnulty said.

The Zika virus is mainly spread through the bite of infected mosquitos and is closely related to the dengue virus, causing a similar illness. Zika can also be a sexually transmitted infection so pregnant women can also be put at risk if their partner returns with the infection.

Symptoms of the Zika virus infection arise three to 12 days after being bitten and can include fever, a rash, headache, red eyes, muscle aches and joint pains. However, 80 per cent of people who contract the virus show no symptoms.

“There is currently no vaccine against Zika virus so we advise women who are pregnant to re-consider going to Brazil. If you do go to Brazil, or other countries experiencing a Zika outbreak, strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites, and use condoms or avoid sexual activity during the trip.

“Given the risk of sexual transmission of Zika, it’s important that travellers continue to take precautions after their trip to protect sexual partners even if they have had no Zika symptoms.”

Athletes and visitors to Rio de Janeiro, and other areas where Zika virus is circulating, are encouraged to:

  • whenever possible, including during the day, protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents and by wearing clothing – preferably light-coloured – that covers as much of the body as possible
  • practise safe sex (by using condoms correctly and consistently) or abstain from sex during the stay and for at least eight weeks after their return, particularly if they have had or are experiencing symptoms of Zika virus
  • choose air-conditioned accommodation (which helps prevent mosquitoes entering the room)
  • avoid visiting impoverished and over-crowded areas in cities and towns with no piped water and poor sanitation where the risk of being bitten is higher.

“You want to remember your trip for the right reasons so take the time to prepare and reduce the risk of contracting diseases that affect you and your loved ones,” Dr McAnulty said.

For more information on the risk of sexual transmission of the Zika virus, go to the Commonwealth Department of Health website at Zika Virus Sexual Transmission Questions and Answers.

For information on the Zika virus go the NSW Health website at: Zika virus alert.

For more advice on safe travel in Brazil this year, go to the NSW Health website at: Advice for travellers to the Summer Olympics - Rio 2016. Also see the NSW Health web pages: Staying healthy when travelling overseas and Mosquitoes are a health hazard.

Media contact: NSW Health Public Affairs Unit, 9391 9121, after-hours pager 02 9962 9890, media@doh.health.nsw.gov.au.

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Page Updated: Friday 24 June 2016