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Health department launches Zika virus education campaign

LANSING, Mich. – Local mosquitoes are not known carriers of the Zika virus. That puts Michigan residents at low risk for the viral infection, but travelers and pregnant women still need to take precautions.

For most people, Zika virus is a mild infection that resolves on its own, but it can cause severe birth defects when pregnant women are infected. People are typically infected by carrier mosquitoes and rarely through sexual contact.

“There is some misinformation and fear around Zika virus, which we’re trying to combat with an education campaign,” said Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail. “We want the general public to know that a Zika virus outbreak is unlikely to occur in Michigan, and we want travelers and pregnant women to understand how Zika virus could affect them. They are most at risk, but can take steps to protect themselves.”

For pregnant women, protection from Zika virus includes avoiding travel to areas like South America and the Caribbean, and if their sexual partners travel to those regions, it means abstaining from sex or using condoms to prevent sexual transmission. Women trying to become pregnant should follow similar precautions or delay conception.

Everyone who travels to an area with Zika virus should use insect repellent and avoid mosquito bites. If travelers are infected, however, they are unlikely to become seriously ill. Zika virus is most concerning in pregnant women because microcephaly and other fetal brain defects have been linked to Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

“Pregnant women should avoid travel to regions with Zika virus,” said Vail. “Just like alcohol or tobacco avoidance, travel to areas with Zika virus should be avoided for a healthy pregnancy.”

The health department’s Zika virus campaign includes billboards, radio, newspaper and movie theater ads, and social media promotions, which will last through the summer. The health department is also working with local OB-GYN providers and community groups to reach pregnant women specifically. The campaign is funded by emergency preparedness funds from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, visit hd.ingham.org.

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