ST CROIX, US Virgin Islands, Thursday February 11, 2016 — The Zika virus is discouraging increasing numbers of Americans from travelling to the Caribbean and Latin America, with 41 percent of those aware of the disease saying they are less likely to take such a trip, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
The poll is the latest sign that the virus — which is thought to be linked to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with brain damage and unusually small heads — could negatively impact tourism in the Caribbean.
Airlines and cruise ship operators have yet to report Zika-related drops in bookings, and analysts have downplayed the impact that pregnant women will have on the travel industry.
But awareness of the mosquito-borne virus has surged to nearly two-thirds of Americans, according to the poll of 1,595 adults in the United States conducted February 1-5, CNBC reports.
That compares with 45 percent who had heard of Zika in a Reuters/Ipsos poll from late last month.
In the latest poll, of those aware of the virus, 41 percent said they were less likely to travel to Puerto Rico, Mexico or South America in the next 12 months because of Zika. Some 48 percent said Zika had not changed the likelihood of their visiting those destinations, while others did not know.
Six out of 10 Americans aware of Zika said the virus concerned them, including 18 percent who said they were very concerned, according to the poll.
“I am actively trying to get pregnant with my husband, so I am a little bit concerned,” said Erica, a respondent who said she was bitten by a mosquito during a January trip to the US Virgin Islands, where Zika has been reported.
Erica, who asked only to be identified by her first name for personal reasons, said she no longer plans to visit Jamaica this summer to celebrate her wedding anniversary.
“We’ve definitely gone back to the drawing board on that,” she said, referring to the island, which is on the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning list.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared Zika an international public health emergency, a decision prompted by growing concern that it could cause birth defects.
At a recent news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, said that clusters of microcephaly in regions with Zika cases “constitute an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world.”
She added that “international response is needed to minimize the threat in infected countries and reduce risk of international spread.”
The current outbreak of Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, began in Brazil last May and has since moved into more than 20 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.