HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games set to start this week in Rio de Janeiro, the state Department of Health has issued a notice to Hawaii travelers, warning them to be wary about mosquitoes that may transmit the Zika virus.
"We wish Hawaii residents going to Brazil for the Olympic Games safe travels, and urge them to heed travel warnings by preparing carefully and doing what they can to prevent mosquito bites," said Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler. "If people avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, they will substantially reduce their risks of contracting Zika virus and bringing it back to Hawaii. We don't have locally transmitted Zika here, and we must do whatever we can to keep it that way."
Brazil's Zika outbreak has grown since it started over a year ago, with local mosquito transmission of the virus being reported across the country. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a "Level 2 Travel Alert," cautioning travelers to be extra cautious while in the country.
Zika has been linked to cases of microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes babies to be born with smaller heads due to abnormal brain development. Because of this, the CDC also recommends that pregnant women avoid traveling to regions where Zika has been reported.
If travelers returning to Hawaii from areas affected by Zika, including Brazil, feel ill within two weeks of returning, they should see a healthcare provider, DOH said.
While Zika has not been reported in Hawaii, the DOH said the state has been identified as a high-risk area for an outbreak because of its year-round warm temperatures and consistently high travel rates in and out of the state. The DOH pointed to Florida as an example, where the state recently confirmed its first cases of locally-acquired Zika.
Local transmission of the Zika virus begins when infected mosquitoes bite humans. It can also be spread from an infected pregnant woman to her unborn child before or during birth and also from an infected person to their sexual partners.