All information correct as of Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016
With the recent outbreak of the Zika virus in the Americas, many travelers have been asking us how they can prevent being infected while seeing the wonders of Latin America and whether or not it affects their travel plans. As we have 6 regional offices throughout Latin America, we are here on the ground and following the situation closely as not only is this something which is happening close to home but we want to always ensure that you travel with nothing less than 100% peace of mind. Based on information gathered from reliable international press and medical sources, this article on the Zika virus and how it may or may not affect your trip to Latin America has been prepared for general information purposes. It is therefore in no way a substitute for professional medical advice… so once you’ve read the rest of this article and if you have any further medical or health related questions and doubts please consult your doctor as although we are wizards at creating unforgettable travel experiences, we leave providing health advice to the doctors and medical professionals.
♦ What is the Zika Virus?
From the same family of the Dengue virus, the Zika virus or, ZIKV for short, was first identified in 1947 in certain monkeys from the Zika Forest in Uganda. Fifteen years later, it was found that ZIKV can also cause illnesses in humans. Indications also suggest that ZIKV may be related to certain neurological birth defects such as Microcephaly, when the mother becomes infected with Zika while pregnant. While the scientific evidence for this relation is still incomplete and the total number of those infected by the Zika virus to be confirmed, such complications have been found to be rare. Other rare diseases which still lack scientific evidence but have been heavily reported in the press recently is the link between ZIKV and neurological conditions such as, Guillain-Barré syndrome.
♦ Where is the recent ZIKV outbreak occurring?
The situation is changing all the time and the World Health Organization (WHO) expects it to spread to other areas. It has been predominantly reported in the tropical regions of Central and South America the Caribbean and, Southeast Asia. While the Zika virus is affecting the tropical regions of Latin America, the high altitude and colder climates of South America such as the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile & Argentina as well as Patagonia have not yet experienced an outbreak of the virus. If you would like to see where local Zika transmissions have been reported you can stay up to date at the following link from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): http://www.cdc.gov/zika/
♦ How do you become infected with the Zika virus?
Transmitted through bites from the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that carries Dengue and Chikungunya, they are usually most active during daylight hours and often live in buildings in urban areas. It is possible but much rarer, for the fetus to contract the virus in the womb if the mother has been infected with ZIKV during pregnancy.
♦ What are the symptoms of ZIKV?
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week with about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus becoming ill. According to the CDC the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash (starts in the face and spreads), joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain (hands and feet) and headaches (“behind the eyes”). The time from exposure to symptoms of the Zika virus is still unknown but it is likely to be a few days to a week. If you develop any of the above symptoms described above while traveling through an area where Zika is found, you should contact your healthcare provider.
♦ Is there a treatment for the Zika virus?
There are no medicines available because people infected with the Zika virus recover without treatment and without any serious lingering symptoms. Only in the event of possible complications might it be necessary to carry out a targeted investigation to provide specific treatment.
♦ Does the virus affect my travel plans to Latin America?
If – and in what way – the Zika virus outbreak may affect your travel plans to Latin America depends on the condition of your personal health and on the travel advice of national and international organizations and governments. Generally speaking as at the beginning of February 2016 there is no restriction on travel to areas affected with the Zika virus. If you find yourself in good health and not pregnant, there is no obvious medical reason for changing your Latin America travel plans as long as you comply with the recommended preventative measures found in the next paragraph. Unfortunately you can’t predict the future but if you are thinking of booking a trip to a current Zika-infected area we highly recommend taking out travel insurance which will cover you and your travel expenses if your trip was to get cancelled for possible travel restrictions. If you are looking to travel soon to Latin America but want to avoid going to any of the current ZIKV areas, this may be a great chance to seek out another country or area of Latin America that you had not previously considered. Make sure to speak to your Class Adventure Travel specialist who will be more than happy to help plan your vacation to Central & South America, avoiding current Zika-infected areas.
♦ How can I prevent or lessen the chances of getting the Zika virus?
Reducing the chance of getting the Zika virus comes down to preventing mosquito bites. Particularly during the day you should take anti-mosquito measures such as wearing long clothes as much as possible and they should preferably be light-colored. Use a reliable repellent, anti-mosquito lotion or stick and make sure to carefully follow the instructions on the product leaflet. While in your hotel room, keep windows closed and only open them if there are good screens, using the in-room air conditioning to keep both yourself and the room cool. If it’s not possible to seep in a room that is free of mosquitoes take a mosquito net with you that has already been treated with insect repellent such as, permethrin. Once again, if you become ill with any of the symptoms mentioned above within two weeks of returning from Zika-infected areas, you should always consult your doctor.
If you are pregnant or might become pregnant while visiting Zika virus areas, you may decide to take into account the travel advice of your government and World Health Organization (WHO). As ZIKV continues to spread, knowledge of the virus and its characteristics is constantly growing and as a result, preventative advice will change with it. If pregnant, you should only follow reliable sources such as your government or WHO, and consult your doctor before visiting ZIKV areas.