Before this year, you had probably never heard of the Zika virus. But since health authorities in South American countries raised concerns, it has become a global crisis.
Although there aren’t any official travel bans yet, there is some official advice for holidaymakers planning on travelling to these affected parts.
What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus was first found in May 2015 in Brazil and has since spread. The virus is mainly spread by mosquitoes but for most people, it will only show up in the form of a mild infection. Pregnant women can face more serious health issues as the virus has been linked to birth defects. There is currently no vaccination against the virus.
Zika does not naturally occur in the UK, so you don’t need to worry about it unless you’re travelling to an affected area.
Which countries are affected?
At the date of publication, over 23 countries have found traces of the virus. These include Aruba, Barbados, Cuba, Mexico and Saint Lucia. For ongoing updates on countries that have found traces of Zika, visit the Pan American Health Organization.
What advice is there for British travellers?
If you’re pregnant, it’s recommended that you don’t travel to any areas with the Zika virus until after you’ve given birth. If you’re not currently pregnant and you can’t postpone your trip, avoid becoming pregnant while in an affected country and for 28 days after you return home.
For all travellers unable to postpone a trip to an affected area, you should seek advice from a health professional before going. There are currently certain measures in place for use both in the day and night to help avoid contact with mosquitos while away.
These include wearing loose fitting clothing, covering your arms and legs in the day and sleeping in a mosquito net at night. For pregnant women, these measures will be stricter.
What are airlines and holiday firms saying?
In the wake of the virus, a number of airlines have offered refunds or the opportunity to rearrange flights to pregnant passengers.
Some airlines such as American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta are offering to refund or reschedule a ticket based on when it was purchased – for example, if you bought your ticket before 31st March 2016. Others such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa say you should get in touch with their customer services team.
Thomas Cook is willing to accept changes to existing bookings until the 30th April 2016. Thomson and First Choice have said that customers that can confirm their pregnancy with a doctor’s note can amend their flights without incurring a fee. Deadlines are in place for when you can amend a flight, so see their respective websites for details.
If you’re not pregnant, you may have to pay to rearrange a holiday if you’re set to travel to a country affected by the virus. This may change if any official travel bans come into place.