Zika: What you need to know

With the Rio Olympics just around the corner and reports of the Zika Virus spreading to Europe and more recently Indonesia, there is renewed panic and uncertainty regarding travel to affected destinations.

The most recent facts

WHO

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not issued general restriction on travel or trade within countries, areas and territories with Zika virus transmission it is advising pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. This advice is based on the increased risk of microcephaly and other congenital malformations in babies born to pregnant women infected with Zika virus. The Zika virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. The virus can also be transmitted through sex.

Before travelling to Zika affected areas

Travellers to areas with Zika virus outbreaks should seek up-to-date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites and sexual transmission of Zika.

Reliable sources include:

The World Health Organization

Centre for Disease Control

While in Zika-affected areas

Men and women should practice safer sex (including the consistent use of condoms) or abstinence to prevent Zika virus infection for at least eight weeks after returning from a trip. If men experience symptoms (rash, fever, arthralgia, myalgia or conjunctivitis) then they should adopt safer sexual practices or consider abstaining for at least six months. Sexual partners of pregnant women should practice safer sex or abstain for at least the duration of the pregnancy.

Prevent mosquito bites during the trip by following these measures:

  • Wear clothing – preferably light coloured – that covers as much of the body as possible;
  • Use insect repellent: repellents may be applied to exposed skin or to clothing, and should contain DEET, (diethyltoluamide) or IR 3535 or Icaridin. Repellents must be used in strict accordance with the label instructions;
  • Use physical barriers such as regular or mesh screens or insecticide treated netting materials on doors and windows, or closing doors and windows; and
  • Sleep under mosquito nets, especially during the day, when Aedes mosquitoes are most active.
  • Upon return home

Travel insurance:

Unfortunately pregnancy and fear of travelling are excluded from coverage on many travel insurance policies. This means travellers are not covered if they decide to cancel their trip for pregnancy-related reasons or fear of contracting the Zika virus.

The alternative is to check with your insurance provider if they offer a ’Cancellation for Any Reason’ benefit. In the event of the individual needing to cancel their international journey the benefit will allow the individual to be reimbursed up to the limit of liability as shown on the schedule of benefits and subject to the terms and conditions as set out by the insurance provider. Travellers can, however, in most cases opt to increase their travel insurance benefits at an additional price.

For complete piece of mind, insurance providers are urging travellers to review their insurance policy terms and conditions and to discuss any concerns directly with the relevant provider who will be able to advise on the best possible options available.

The Zika Virus: should you reconsider your travel plans?

The Zika virus is spreading rapidly across South America, prompting governments across the world to issue travel warnings to pregnant women for countries where the virus has been detected. Thus far, 24 countries — including Mexico, the USA and Brazil — have reported active transmissions of the tropical disease.

What is it?

The Zika virus is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant as the condition could potentially lead to serious birth defects, such as microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age). The World Health Organisation has however stressed that a link between the two conditions has yet to be proven.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel alert recommending pregnant women postpone travel to areas where the virus has been reported. The alert has been extended to: Puerto Rico, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde, Samoa, and most recently, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Dominican Republic.

What are the symptoms?

Infected people are unlikely to seek medical advice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the symptoms of Zika are usually very mild. They include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

What precautions can you take?

There are currently no vaccines to prevent, and no medicines to treat the Zika virus. The best protection is not to travel to areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is found. If you do go to a location where it has been reported, do everything to avoid being bitten – which is always a wise move in the Tropics, which extend from Havana to Rio. Wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks, and Deet-based insect repellent on exposed skin – not very attractive, but effective. At night, use insect screens and air conditioning if your room has them, and consider taking a mosquito net. The risk of mosquito-borne transmission on aircraft is also extremely low.

Contact your ASATA Travel Agent

Airlines have reacted to the outbreak by adjusting their cancellation and rebooking policies, especially for pregnant women. Contact your accredited ASATA travel agent or TMC for more information as to whether you should reconsider your travel plans. They will be able to advise you on the necessary cancellation or rebooking policies specific to your airline or hotel should you wish to change your travel plans.

Read more about the Zika Virus here: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/disease-qa.html

In addition, the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Website is publishing updated travel health notices here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices.