SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Tuesday August 9, 2016 – Stick to the facts and stop overreacting when it comes to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
That’s the strong message from tourism officials and medical experts in Puerto Rico.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recently predicted that the Zika virus is spreading so quickly in Puerto Rico that it’s likely to infect one in four people, including up to 10,000 pregnant women, by the end of the year. Earlier this year, it suggested that Puerto Rico would be ground zero for Zika outbreak in the United States. There were even suggestions that Puerto Rico was not prepared.
But President and CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA), Clarisa Jimenez, insists that doesn’t reflect what’s really happening on the ground in the Caribbean island.
“Why doesn’t the CDC stick to just facts …We applaud the CDC’s work on Zika and its critical science and health information that keeps us safe from disease and death, but we are deeply disturbed by its continued messaging machine of speculation and hype that has the ability to destroy economies,” she said.
“Zika cases in Puerto Rico represent less than one half of one percent of the population. Of course, certain segments of the population including pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant must exercise extra precaution and follow CDC guidelines, but we are taking all possible measures in Puerto Rico to prevent the spread of the virus through education and activation. As experts dealing with mosquito borne illnesses, we are working as diligently on this situation as we have in the past.”
Leading epidemiologist Dr. D.A. Henderson also contended that the over-reaction and hype about Zika is neither warranted nor helpful.
“I see no evidence to suggest that Puerto Rico is the epicentre of the Zika outbreak, nor do I see signs that it will become an epidemic in the US,” said the Distinguished Scholar at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland who helped lead the programme that eradicated smallpox.
And while urging travelers to follow CDC guidelines, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baptist Hospital in Miami, Dr. Jason James, also stressed the importance of maintaining perspective on the risk of Zika for those who are not pregnant.
A frequent world traveler himself, Dr. James encouraged those who are not pregnant or planning to conceive soon to continue exploring, while taking common sense precautions.
“If you’re pregnant, don’t travel where Zika is active. But if you’re not pregnant, I would encourage you to take your vacation, take your business trip, and live your life. Just be sure to follow the CDC guidelines, apply bug spray with DEET, wear proper clothing and take other common-sense precautions,” he advised.
Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) Executive Director Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort said while it could not be denied that people have concerns about Zika, “travelers need to know they can have a worry-free experience when visiting Puerto Rico.”
The PRTC and PRHTA say they’re taking every precaution possible to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds at hotels and resorts, and educate visitors about preventing mosquito bites.