By now you have probably heard about the Zika virus outbreaks in the past year. Prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks occurred mostly in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, the first confirmed Zika infections occurred in Brazil and have since spread to areas in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Because many timeshare resorts are located in areas where Zika outbreaks are actively occurring, we wanted to give you the latest information about the virus and how to travel safely.
Zika virus disease is an illness caused by the Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms include a fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, although in many cases there are no symptoms at all. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. One major area of concern for some people is how Zika may affect a fetus if its pregnant mother is exposed to the virus. While many questions still remain, there is increasing evidence of a link between Zika and some serious birth defects.
The following information is current as of March 18, 2016 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus is occurring in the following areas:
- Cape Verde
- The Caribbean: Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Central America: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama
- The Pacific Islands: American Samoa, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Samoa, and Tonga
- South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela
There is no existing vaccine that prevents Zika virus disease, so the best way to protect yourself is to avoid mosquito bites. If you plan on traveling to one of the above territories, take the following precautions:
- Expose as little skin as possible. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net.
- Use insect repellent that contains 20% or more DEET. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant or breast-feeding women.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin (a pesticide used to kill mosquitoes and ticks) or purchase already treated items. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings.
For more information on how to best prevent mosquito bites, see this helpful document. Be aware that all current travel notices are Level 2 (out of 3), which means to practice enhanced precautions, such as those listed above. As long as you are responsible and take the suggested precautionary measures, you should be able to safely enjoy your vacation.