BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday February 4, 2016 – The spread of the Zika virus in the Americas, including countries in the Caribbean, and the possible link to birth defects such as microcephaly (babies with small heads) have left many people – especially pregnant women – wondering whether they should cancel their holidays to the region.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and individual countries have advised their pregnant citizens not to, and some airlines and cruise lines are offering refunds and/free penalty-free changes.
But the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) say there is no reason to panic or to put travel plans on hold.
Here are 10 reasons why, based on a list of Frequently Asked Questions the two have put out.
1. The Zika outbreak has been concentrated in Brazil and South America, with approximately 1.5 million suspected cases in Brazil. By contrast, there have been around 200 suspected cases in the Caribbean, spread across about a dozen of the region’s 30-plus countries. Most individuals who contracted the virus have already recovered.
2. The World Health Organization (WHO) has not issued any travel restrictions to affected countries.
3. It’s too early to tell but all indications are that there are very few cancellations as a result of Zika. The Caribbean set a record for visitor arrivals in 2015 and all indications point to continued growth and its popularity as one of the world’s most desirable warm weather destinations.
4. The WHO and other health agencies, including the CDC, have said that Zika symptoms for the vast majority of people are mild and last two to seven days. In fact, according to the WHO and the CDC, four in five people who contract the virus never know they got it, and if you get it once you develop immunity for life.
5. The WHO itself has stated several times that it has no proof of a link between Zika and microcephaly. In fact, there is other research that suggests there is no link and that there are other causes of the suspected rise in cases in Brazil. There are also no reported cases of microcephaly linked to Zika outbreaks in other countries or regions. Also, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), microcephaly is extremely rare in the Caribbean and there are no cases linked to Zika.
6. Based on the evidence, the Zika virus does not pose an extraordinary threat to visitors to the Caribbean. The CTO and CHTA say they will continue to closely monitor developments and if fresh evidence emerges that suggests otherwise, it will advise accordingly.
7. You just need to travel sensibly and to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself against insect bites, including mosquito bites, in very much the same way you would on any holiday in any tropical country. Visitors are encouraged to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using long lasting repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 on exposed skin. Many visitors come to the region to enjoy the sunshine, so they’re advised to use both sunscreen and insect repellent. Apply the sunscreen first, then the repellent.
8. Caribbean countries and hotels continue proactive measures similar to those used to combat other mosquito-borne viruses. Staff and guests are being provided with the necessary information so they become familiar with how it can be prevented, how it can be transmitted, its signs and symptoms. Insect repellent containing DEET is being placed in hotel rooms, or made easily available for purchase. Many CTO and CHTA member countries undertake national clean-up campaigns to try to eradicate breeding grounds, while an increasing number of hotels install mosquito screens on windows and/or supply guests with bed nets in areas where the sleeping quarters are exposed to the outdoors
9. The CTO and CHTA remain in close contact with CARPHA to monitor and research the Zika cases in the Caribbean and to communicate prevention and control measures to residents and visitors, while the health authorities in member countries are taking the necessary steps to limit the number of new cases.
10. The Caribbean remains open for business and safe for travel. The CTO and CHTA say they will continue to work closely with CARPHA to assess the situation, but they encourage visitors to continue with their travel plans to the Caribbean and follow the advice and precautions issued by the WHO, similar to those which are provided to travelers to most tropical destinations.