Travel Tips

Published on February 2nd, 2016 | by Mark Chesnut


Should the Zika Virus Scare You Away from Latin America Travel?

The Zika virus has been alarming people in various parts of the world. So should you cancel your next trip to Latin America?

The short answer: Probably not, unless you’re pregnant or considering becoming pregnant soon. That’s the word from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito (the same insect that transmits dengue and chikungunya) can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby, with reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly.

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Other people who get the Zika virus may get a mild fever, rash, conjunctivitis and muscle pain, between two and seven days after the mosquito bite, according to the Pan American Health Organization — but it’s not life threatening, clears up by itself and only one in four infected people develop symptoms.

According to the CDC, the following Latin American destinations have reported ongoing transmission of Zika (the organization has placed the situation at Alert Level 2, which indicates “the need to practice enhanced precautions”):

• Mexico
• Puerto Rico
• Dominican Republic
• El Salvador
• Guatemala
• Honduras
• Panama
• Bolivia
• Brazil
• Colombia
• Ecuador
• Paraguay
• Venezuela

Consult the CDC’s page with travel information about the Zika virus for a complete listing of all nations affected.

How to avoid the Zika virus: Travel tips from PAHO.

How to avoid the Zika virus: Travel tips from PAHO.

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How to Avoid the Zika Virus When Traveling
Avoiding the Zika virus requires the same basic rules you’d follow for avoiding mosquito bites. The CDC provides these recommendations:

• Use a repellant that contains 20 percent or more DEET (such as Off!, Sawyer and Ultrathon), or look for products with Picaridin (such as Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus and Autan), oil of lemon eucalyptus (such as Repel and Off! Botanicals) and IR3535 (such as Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart). More active ingredient means it’s effective for a longer period of time.
• If you wear sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellant second.
• Consider wearing permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
• Cover skin with long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats.
• Stay in accommodations with screens or air conditioning, or use a bed net.

There is no vaccine or cure for the Zika virus — so if you think you may have been infected you should see a doctor. And, of course, a great way to avoid mosquito bites is to visit places where there are no mosquitos, like higher-altitude and colder climates around the hemisphere.

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How to Cancel Travel Plans
Some travel-related companies are allowing travelers to cancel reservations over concern about the Zika virus, but only in limited cases. United Airlines allows travelers with reservations for flights to countries on the CDC list to change their travel dates at no additional cost. Delta is doing the same, but you need to make the changes before February 29, 2016. American Airlines requires a doctor’s note for such changes (in other words, proof that you’re pregnant). You should contact cruise lines and hotels individually if you’re booked to an affected destination.

Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, issued a statement saying the following: “At this time, the only passengers that are advised not to travel to affected areas are expectant mothers, and we are making accommodations for those very few affected guests to reschedule their cruise for a future date or change their itinerary to non-affected destinations.”

The travel insurance website has reported a 20 percent increase in call volume from travelers concerned about the Zika virus. The site recommends Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) travel insurance for those who are worried; this type of policy which offers the opportunity to cancel travel plans for reasons other than those listed as “covered reasons” on a policy.

A tour company called Latin Trails sent out an email to assure most travelers that they shouldn’t cancel their plans, noting the following:

• The mosquito cannot survive at altitudes above 2,200 meters or 7,217 feet.
• The Zika virus is mainly a worry for pregnant women due to the risk of birth defects in newborn children.
• The effect of the Zika virus is short term — one week or less, and does not present a life-threatening condition for humans.
• The risk of acquiring the virus in remote and low-population areas is less than in highly populated areas — according to Latin Trails, for example, Rio de Janeiro is a high-risk destination, while an Amazon lodge is “very low” risk.

Photo via VisualHunt

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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