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Zika a concern for some spring break goers

Katherine Ranzenberger
505-5439/@YDKatherine

Spring break is right around the corner, and college students across York County and Pennsylvania are packing for trips to Mexico, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. Scientists believe the species originated in Africa but came to the Americas on slave ships. It has continued to spread through shipping and airplanes. Now it's found through much of the world. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

However, they should all remember one key item that may have not been truly necessary in past years: insect repellent.

Zika virus has been in the news across the nation in 2016 and has been a concern for health care officials around the world.

“Mosquitos remain the primary source of Zika virus, so we urge all travelers to affected areas to take steps to avoid getting bitten,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy in a press release. “In addition, the infection has also been found to spread through sexual contact.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy

The DOH is urging men who have traveled to Zika-affected areas to wear a condom properly and consistently to avoid possibly spreading the virus to their partners.

“This is especially important for men whose partners are pregnant women or women who are of childbearing age, as the Zika virus has been linked to potentially severe birth defects in babies born to women who had the illness during pregnancy,” according to a March 3 press release.

Countries like Barbados, Jamaica, Costa Rica and the U.S. Virgin Islands have experienced recent outbreaks of Zika. Puerto Rico, a popular stop in the Caribbean for cruise ships and college students, recently reported 117 confirmed cases, including five pregnant women.

Even though most news outlets have been focused on Zika, Pennsylvania State University has been advising its students to be aware of chikungunya and dengue as well. The two viruses have much worse symptoms than Zika.

"We've been putting out information not only to our students but our staff as well," said Shelley Haffner, Infection Control Nurse Manager at Penn State. "We're strongly encouraging everyone to use EPA approved insect repellents and wear appropriate clothing to protect themselves."

Haffner said most people in Pennsylvania are used to the mosquitoes that bite at night. She said the mosquitoes in the countries popular for spring break destinations are vicious day-biters.

"We're also educating our students about safer sex practices because there have been reported cases from sexual transmission," Haffner said. "We're certainly encouraging our male students to use condoms while they're there. We don't want people bringing back any of these viruses. It defeats the purpose of spring break if you're getting sick."

Zika was discovered in 1947, according to the CDC. The most common symptoms of Zika infection are rash, fever, joint pain and conjunctivitis. However, most don’t experience any symptoms at all after infection.

The symptoms don’t last long, only a few days to a week, according to the CDC.

Currently there are no vaccines or treatments for Zika. The CDC recommends using an insect repellent containing DEET, wearing light-colored clothing to cover as much of your body as possible, sleeping under mosquito nets and keeping doors, windows and screens shut as a physical barrier between you and the bugs.

For more information on Zika, visit zika.pa.gov.

Note: This story was updated March 20 to fix a misattributed quote.