Updated August 4, 2016
What is Zika Virus?
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that, in about 80% of cases of people infected, causes no symptoms at all. In others, symptoms are minor and include fever, rash, headaches, pink eye, and joint pain. Zika virus remains a level 2 travel advisory in affected countries, meaning travellers and potential travellers should practice enhanced precautions. When a travel health advisory reaches level 3, travellers are asked to avoid nonessential travel to the affected areas. This is not the case for Zika at the moment.
Who is at risk?
Zika virus can infect anyone bit by a mosquito carrying the disease. It can also be transmitted sexually or by infected mother to baby. Zika is only a serious risk to a portion of the population who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. Pregnant women are advised to discuss their travel plans with a healthcare provider to assess their risks and options for travel to the affected areas. The virus may be harmful for pregnant women and their babies, as links to microcephaly are being investigated. Microcephaly is a congenital condition where a baby’s head is smaller than normal. It is associated with incomplete brain development. The link between Zika and microcephaly resulted after a high number of babies born in Brazil — which has had the disease since 2015 — were born with this birth defeat.
Where is Zika present?
We’ve made note of the most recent recorded number of cases by the World Health Organization (updated May 20, 2016) in our most common tourist destinations:
|Country||# of cases (date reported)||Population size|
|Aruba||Number of cases not found||102,911|
|Barbados||3 (Jan. 15)||284,644|
|Brazil||1.2 million (Feb. 4)||200.4 million|
|Costa Rica||1 (Jan. 27)||4.872 million|
|Cuba||1 (April 13)||11.38 million|
|Dominican Republic||10 (Jan. 27)||10.4 million|
|Hawaii (United States)||4 (Feb. 17) Travel associated cases||1.42 million|
|Jamaica||1 (Feb. 3)||2.715 million|
|Mexico||3 (Dec. 2015)||122.3 million|
|Panama||5 (Dec. 2015)||3.865 million|
|Puerto Rico||1 (Dec. 31, 2015)||3.548 million|
|Saint Martin and St. Maarten||1 (Jan. 21)||74,852|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|
|Trinidad and Tobago|
|U.S. Virgin Islands|
Other cases have been reported in American Samoa, Fiji, Samoa, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Tonga, and Cape Verde Africa. The largest affected area from the Zika Virus to date is Brazil, with an estimated 1.2-million cases. The World Health Organization has also reported that as of January 2, there were 3,174 suspected cases of microcephaly identified in the country. Investigations into the link between the virus and birth defects are still ongoing.
Has Zika reached Canada and the US?
There have been 180 reported cases of Zika in Canada and 1,600 reported cases in the US, according to this CHCH news clip. Of the reported cases in Canada, 37 were women and 7 were confirmed pregnant women, according to this article in the National Post. Most of the cases were travel-related, where people contracted the virus abroad. One case was sexually transmitted and one case was transmitted from mother to child (but did not cause microcephaly).
As of August 1, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that pregnant women, or those trying to conceive, should not travel to the Wynwood neighbourhood, a one-square mile section of Miami. Southern Florida has been added to the list of travel health notices for the Zika virus after 14 reported cases in Miami. The virus is not anticipated to spread to Canada or even throughout the US as this type of virus can not survive in cold climates.
In light of the recent cases of Zika reported in Florida and its potential risk to pregnant women, suppliers and airlines are establishing policies to address concerns. Customers who have booked prior to August 3, 2016 for future travel to Florida and have not purchased cancellation insurance will be permitted to make changes to their travel plans for no additional fees or cancel for a full refund — provided they have been advised against traveling to affected areas by their physician and can provide a medical note.
What if I’m pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) and have booked a trip to a Zika-infected country?
tripcentral.ca has no way of knowing if our travellers are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Our travel agents and customer service department are handling phone calls by passengers or future travellers on an as-they-call basis. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, we strongly recommend speaking to your doctor about medical risks. Our travel agents are not medical professionals and cannot provide advice in this area.
We strongly advise our change of mind insurance coverage that allows you to cancel travel for any reason, up to 3 days prior, for 75 per cent of your money back. We recommended purchasing this insurance all the time, but it is especially important if you are trying to become pregnant. Because Zika is a known risk, tour operators and airlines are no longer obligated to refund you (expect in the case of Miami, which is a new risk).
Cancellation policies depend on what area you’re travelling to and when you booked your trip. You may consult your travel agent for confirmation on whether or not you are eligible to cancel. If you have cancellation insurance, whether it’s Sunwing’s Worry-Free Cancellation Waiver, Transat’s Option Flex, or another type of insurance, you are allowed to cancel, worry-free, no matter what the reason is. If you did not purchase insurance and booked a trip to a known-infected area and suddenly become pregnant, you are not covered.
How worried should I be?
The Globe and Mail puts Zika virus into perspective:
“More importantly, travellers should bear in mind that Zika is only one of many risks they will face, especially in tropical countries where infectious illnesses are more common. Unlike Canada, childhood illnesses like measles and rubella circulate in some countries. Gastrointestinal infections that can come from unclean food and water also transmit pathogens like E. coli and norovirus.
Not to mention that the single biggest danger to international travellers is not infectious disease, but motor-vehicle crashes. (And, in the United States and some other countries, gun violence.)
In Brazil, where it’s winter, it’s flu season, and that’s a much bigger threat than Zika for travellers.”
What can I do to prevent contracting the virus when travelling to an infected area?
Women of childbearing age should take precautions with contraceptives or abstinence during travels. Since the virus lives in sperm, it is recommended that men who have been infected wait 6 months before trying to conceive. Couples trying to conceive should wait 8 weeks if they have recently visited a Zika-infected destination. Protect yourself by using insect repellent (with the ingredient DEET) and by covering your skin with long shirts and parts.
- Public Health Agency of Canada notice on Zika Virus
- Travel insurance policies and definitions
- World Health Organization fact sheet on Zika Virus
Kim Hartlen, one of our travel agents located in Bedford, Nova Scotia, speaks to CTV Atlantic News about the Zika Virus and our suppliers’ change and cancellation policies for pregnant travellers. Airline passenger rights advocate G. Luckas expresses uncharacteristic praise for the airline industry in how they are responding to the concerns of pregnant travellers regarding changes and cancellations: