Marines Warned About Zika in Philippines Ahead of Balikatan

A screengrab from a U.S. Navy instructional video on preventing the Zika virus. (Screenshot from YouTube)
A screengrab from a U.S. Navy instructional video on preventing the Zika virus. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Marines deploying next month for Balikatan exercises in the Philippines will be briefed about the Zika virus present on the islands but won't need to take special measures to protect themselves.

"As part of our standard force protection process, Marines are being made aware of diseases which they may encounter while deployed in the Philippines; the Zika virus, among other diseases present in the Philippines, is included in that force protection planning," Marine Corps Forces Pacific spokesman Chuck Little said in an email Tuesday.

An American woman who visited the Philippines in January tested positive for Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that can cause birth defects.

Standard force protection measures will apply with no special precautions taken with regard to Zika during Balikatan, Little said. Officials have yet to release details of this year's exercise; however, more than 6,000 U.S. servicemembers participated in last year's war games involving U.S. and Philippine forces.

Prevention is the way to avoid infection, and that can involve wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants and using mosquito repellent frequently in affected areas, said Vice Adm. C Forrest Faison III, Navy surgeon general and chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Over the past month, the military has been informing personnel stationed overseas about the risks posed by Zika, along with ways they can protect themselves against the virus.

Faison has appeared on American Forces Network warning servicemembers who travel to affected countries to be on the lookout for Zika's warning signs.

"The symptoms include fever, red eyes, muscle pain, joint pain, rash and headache and can last from three to seven days," he told AFN viewers, noting that not everyone infected with Zika will experience symptoms.

Zika has been shown to be transmitted sexually from men to women, he added.

"For pregnant women, please ask about your partner's travel history and practice safe sex. If you are a man and have traveled to an affected area, please practice safe sex with your partner," Faison said.

There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, he said.

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