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The Traveler’s Guide to Zika

Angela Borden | Dec 21, 2020

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If you’re planning to travel at some point in the next few months, chances are you’ve given some thought to the Zika virus and whether you could be at risk for this illness. Below is a quick guide to help you answer questions you may have about travel and the Zika virus.

What is Zika and How Does It Spread?
Zika is a virus, and according to the CDC, it is transmitted in several different ways:

  • Most often, it is spread when a person is bitten by an infected Aedes species mosquito.
  • Men can spread the virus through sexual intercourse, and this can happen before, during, or after the man has symptoms from the virus.
  • A pregnant woman can spread the virus to her baby when she is pregnant and around the time of birth.  

How do I Know if I have Zika?

You may have it and not know. Typical symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. However, symptoms are generally mild in most cases. According to Amesh Adalja, MD, a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America, “Only about 1 in 5 people with the virus will exhibit symptoms.” This means it’s tough to know for certain if you have it or have had it, unless you have a blood test.

The Risk with Zika

The real concern is for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, because there is a high risk for injury to the baby if you have the virus while pregnant. The CDC has confirmed that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other brain-related birth defects. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than normal, and babies with microcephaly can have a range of health issues, depending on the severity of the condition. The CDC states there are still many unanswered questions about Zika and the effect of it on the mom and her baby. Specifically, and of most concern, they do not know how likely it is that Zika will pass to the fetus nor do they know the likelihood of the fetus developing birth defects if he or she is infected.     


Risky Locations

For the latest information on areas that are prone to Zika infection, check with the CDC. They maintain an up-to-date list of locations with Zika Travel Notices, explaining in detail where the mosquitoes that carry Zika can be found. Generally, risky areas are labeled as countries with an epidemic and include Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific islands, and South America. There are other countries with endemic Zika, but risk to travelers in these areas are much lower.

What about the U.S.?

The CDC has not reported any local transmission of the Zika virus within the 50 United States, although there are cases in the U.S. territories. According to NPR’s interview with Thomas Scott, an epidemiologist at the University of California, there are three zones in the United States which represent the risk of local transmission of Zika. 

  • Extremely low-risk zone:  This includes the northern half of the country, and it’s the safest because the main mosquito (Aedes Aegypti) that spreads the virus has not made it this far north.
  • Low-risk zone:  This includes the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic states, and the Southwest. The Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes have been found here, but the concentration of them is much less than the high-risk area.     
  • High-risk zone:  This includes Florida, the Gulf states, and Texas which have high densities of the mosquito, which carries Zika. 

Prevention is Key

Bottom line — if you are pregnant, could be pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, make sure you do not get bitten by a mosquito and either abstain from or practice safe sex. There are three key ways to ensure you don’t catch Zika:

  • Don’t travel to an area with mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.
  • Prevent bug bitesThere is a long list of ways to tackle this:
    • Choose a good bug spray. There are varying opinions and information on this. Consumer Reports released their insect repellent ratings for free in light of the Zika scare, and they offer a great comparison of products.   
    • Wear clothing that covers your skin if you expect to be in a mosquito prone area.
    • Use mosquito netting at night if there is a possibility of mosquitoes getting near you while you are sleeping. Permethrin treated nets are more effective at keeping them away than an untreated net.
  • Use condoms or abstain from sex — This obviously prevents sexual transmission. 

Protect Your Trip, Your Health, and Your Wallet with Travel Insurance

If you’re planning a trip to an area where the Zika virus is a concern, and there’s a chance you may become pregnant or your travel partner may be pregnant by then, you may want to cancel your trip. Concerned about losing the money you have already paid for your trip? Your best solution is to buy a trip cancellation plan and choose the optional Cancel for any Reason benefit (also known in the travel insurance industry as CFAR). Adding this benefit will increase the price of your plan, but you’ll find it’s worth it for the protection you receive.

In addition to paying an increased price, you will be refunded a percentage (our plans reimburse you 75%, but this varies by plan) of your total non-refundable, prepaid trip costs.

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