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.

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