Over 20 countries have now been confirmed to have recorded cases of the mosquito-borne Zika Virus. The virus does not cause acute symptoms and illness, however, the greater concern is that cases in Brazil have resulted in microcephaly in infants. A vaccine for the virus has not been developed just yet and this is why the CDC and health agencies are concerned.
Because of the rapid spread of the virus, a travel advisory has gone out to warn prospective travelers to affected nations. Pregnant travelers are warned to take extra precautions, especially since the virus may cause microcephaly in their infants.
- Cape Verde in Africa
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Martin
- Samoa in Oceania
- US Virgin Islands
So far, only Samoa counts as an affected country closest to Australia. The rest of the affected countries are in the Americas.
In light of the virus’ outbreak, travelers who are concerned about their health may now be able to get their tickets refunded. With the exception of Brazilian airline Gol, all of the airlines listed below will allow travelers to refund or reschedule their flights to Zika-afflicted areas. Gol, on the other hand, will only allow a reschedule.
Airlines with a refund policy for travel to Zika-stricken areas are American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Latam Airlines, Lufthansa and United Airlines.
Traveling to the Rio Olympics in Brazil was identified as a risk to Australian Olympic athletes, but Australian Olympic Team Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller has issued a statement assuring that they have precautions in place to ensure the health and safety of their athletes, especially those of childbearing age.
The Zika Virus is spread with a bite from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also the carrier for dengue fever, Chikungunya, yellow fever, and other diseases. The symptoms for Zika include headache, fever, joint and muscle pain, rash and conjunctivitis (red eyes). These symptoms are similar to symptoms found in dengue fever cases, but the intensity has been described as “milder.” The only long-term concern for Zika is that it is linked in giving birth to infants with microcephaly. Infants with microcephaly are also observed to have delayed brain development.
A vaccine for the virus is currently being developed at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Pathology Professor Nikos Vasilakis, who also works with the Centre for Biodefence and Emerging Infectious Diseases in Galveston, said that a vaccine could be ready for testing within a couple of years. However, the public release of the vaccine may take up to 12 years because of the process associated with getting the vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda’s Zika Forest, afflicting monkeys. The first human case was discovered in Nigeria in 1954. The Zika virus’ history seems to be similar to other viruses such as the Ebola and the HIV viruses.
Travelers are advised to keep tabs on Zika Virus news, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has opened a bulletin for the health concern.