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A Travellers' Guide to the Zika Virus

Written by  Catherine

A Travellers' Guide to the Zika Virus

The Zika Virus is a hot topic at the moment, and many travellers and potential travellers to South America are wondering what the outbreak means for their travel plans. Here we answer some frequently asked questions about the virus, helping you to make informed travel decisions that are right for you. 

What is the Zika virus?
Zika is a disease spread primarily through the bite of an Aedes mosquito carrying the virus.

Is it serious?
Only about 20% of people infected with Zika show symptoms and in most cases, the illness is mild, with the possibility of flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, a general ‘under the weather’ feeling and sometimes a skin rash and conjunctivitis too. These normally only last a few days and most people do not need to go to hospital.

What, if any, are the long-term effects if I do contract the virus?
In the vast majority of cases, none. Generally it will take a few days for symptoms to manifest (if they do at all) and will be over within two to seven days.

What about if I’m pregnant?
There have been reports of a serious birth defect in the brain (microcephaly) in babies of mothers infected with the Zika virus whilst pregnant. This is still being investigated, but at present medical advice is not to travel to areas where the Zika virus is present. We recommend that you speak to your GP and follow medical advice.

What if I am thinking of getting pregnant?
If you are thinking of getting pregnant before travelling, then it is recommended that you postpone travel to areas where the Zika virus is present. If you are considering getting pregnant after travel, the current advice is to wait at least 28 days before trying to conceive, and six months if you have contracted the virus. We recommend that you speak to your GP and follow medical advice.

Is the Zika virus found everywhere in Latin America?
The Aedes mosquito is found in some areas of some countries in Latin America, although not in all of our destinations, and is not generally found above 2,000 metres altitude. As of 8 February 2016, cases of Zika virus transmission have been reported in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico. The Aedes mosquito is not found in Chile, so the country is not considered at risk. Argentina and Peru have not had any reported cases of Zika virus transmission, although there have been a very small number of infections from people who had travelled to a country with the virus.

Should any Latin American countries be avoided absolutely?
Unless you are pregnant or hoping to conceive imminently, there is no advice to avoid travel to any South or Central American destinations.

What should I do to protect myself?
It is recommended that you try to avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing. There is no vaccine to prevent infection.

Apart from a bite from an infected mosquito, can the virus be transmitted in other ways?
There have been a very small number of cases where sexual intercourse with a person with the Zika virus has possibly been the cause of transmission. This is currently being investigated.

Where can I get more information?
There is good general information from the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.