Zika Virus - Questions and Answers

Last updated: 05 September 2016

If you’re concerned about the possible presence of Zika virus on any upcoming trip, then here is everything you need to know about the virus.

The virus has been all over the news in the past few weeks, so we’ve spoken to some experts to sort the fact from the fiction. There has been much speculation, and plenty of theories, which have led to confusion about the risks posed to travellers.

This is the most up to date information, based on guidelines issued by the Foreign Office, Public Health England and the National Travel Health Network and Centre, as well as liaising with ABTA - The Travel Association.

Which countries are affected?

Exodus currently runs trips to the following countries which have recently reported cases of Zika:

  • Argentina
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Dominica
  • Ecuador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • St Lucia
  • Thailand
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam

What is Zika?

The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in the late 1940s. It is primarily transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, in a similar way to dengue fever and malaria. Of those infected, about one in five people show any symptoms – which tend to be no more than short-lived flu-like symptoms such as a fever, rash and aching joints for between two and seven days.

It is important to keep in mind that the threat posed by Zika remains small in comparison with other mosquito borne infections that are prevalent worldwide.

Zika and Microcephaly

Although in the majority of cases there are no manifested effects of the Zika virus, a possible link between exposure to the virus in pregnancy and microcephaly has been identified which can have potentially serious consequences for unborn children. There is currently no conclusive proof that the two are connected, however investigations are ongoing and this is a major concern that has brought Zika to the world’s attention.

Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome

More recently connections have been suggested between Zika and an apparent rise in neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) which is a serious but rare condition. Treatments are available for GBS and most people make a full recovery. Nevertheless investigations to determine the cause of infection and the possible connection to the Zika virus are ongoing

Where has Zika been found?

The Zika virus has previously been identified in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, Polynesia, other Pacific regions and certain Caribbean Islands. More recently, the Zika virus has now been identified throughout much of the Americas. Locally-acquired transmission has also been reported by Cape Verde.

The Aedes mosquito is typically found in tropical and sub-tropical areas predominantly below 2,000m.

A map highlighting the countries and territories that are currently experiencing Zika virus transmission has been created by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and can be viewed here.

Should I avoid visiting these areas?

The World Health Organisation currently states:
There should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission. 

In most cases, the Zika virus is mildly inconvenient for the average holidaymaker. Generally, travelling to places like Latin America following the rise of the Zika virus is no different to before. Travellers are advised to stay informed about the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases and take necessary precautions during their visit.

How can I protect myself whilst travelling?

The best protection against the virus is to avoid mosquito bites. Suggestions to prevent being bitten include:  
Clothing 
• Wear loose-fitting clothes with long trousers and long sleeves 
• Treat clothes with an insecticide which kills insects on contact. Something similar to this would be suitable
• Insect repellents such as DEET can also be applied to natural fibres such as cotton trousers and shirts
Repellent
• DEET (N-diethylmetatoluamide) based repellents
• Repellents should be reapplied at regular intervals, after swimming and in hot, humid conditions when they may be removed by perspiration. When both sunscreens and repellents are used, the repellent should be applied over sunscreen
Room & sleeping arrangements
Where air conditioning or fans are present ensure they are kept on throughout the night in an effort to reduce night time temperatures and therefore reduce the likelihood of mosquitos biting.
Where present ensure that windows or fly screens are in-tact and closed whenever possible.

Other preventative measures
•   Knock down sprays that are designed to kill flying insects are not likely to provide sufficient protection from either nuisance biting or malaria prevention.
•  Coils, which contain synthetic insecticide, may be useful for some travellers but they should only be used outdoors.
Measures that cannot be recommended for repelling insects
• Bath oil
• Citronella oil-based repellents (these have very short durations of action)
• Citrosa plant (geranium)
• Garlic: fresh or capsules
• Vitamin B12 complex
• Yeast extract spread
• Electronic (ultrasonic) buzzer devices
• Vitamin B1 tablets
• Tea tree oil

Transmission between humans

The risk of sexual transmission is thought to be very low however sexual transmission has been reported. As a precaution, Public Health England is advising men use condoms for 28 days after returning from an infected area if their partner is pregnant or may become so, or for six months if Zika symptoms develop.

Current advice

While the link between the Zika virus and more serious conditions is yet to be confined, the following advice is recommended:

• If you are pregnant

   You should avoid non-essential travel to affected countries. Please see ‘changing your booking’ below and contact us.

• If you may become pregnant at any point during your trip

   For women leaving an area with active Zika transmission, it is recommended that you should not try to conceive for 28 days.

• None of the above

   If you do not fall into these groups, Zika poses no compelling reasons to avoid travel, though as is usual throughout regions where mosquitoes are prevalent, precautions should be taken to avoid being bitten.

Changing your booking

• If you are not pregnant and choose to transfer or cancel your booking, our normal transfer and cancellation conditions will apply.
• If you are pregnant and need to transfer or cancel, please contact your travel insurance provider to confirm if you are covered for cancellation costs due to pregnancy and Zika (they will require proof of pregnancy). If you are not covered by insurance we will not apply normal fees, but we may need to charge some costs, depending on how close to departure you need to cancel or transfer.
• Customers with Exodus Travel Insurance who wish to discuss their cover should call the Campbell Irvine enquiries line on 020 7938 1734.

 

Sources

The above notes are based on information from the following sources:
o UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
o UK National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC)
o Public Health England
o European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC)
o The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO)
o US Centre for Disease Control (CDC)
o The World Health Organisation (WHO)
o Latin American Travel Association (LATA)

Whilst we endeavour to provide updated and factual information, it should be noted that Exodus is not a professional medical body and the above information could be subject to change. If you have any further concerns please consult your medical professional, GP or a travel health clinic at least 8 weeks prior to travel.

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