Should you worry about the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is making headlines in travel news these days, and many travellers are wondering: do we travel, or not?  The fact is, Zika virus has been reported in all countries in the Americas with the exception of Canada and Chile.  Avoiding Zika is becoming unpractical, and it’s time to look at how we can coexist with this pesky problem while the health experts work on solutions.

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First, some facts:

  1. Zika comes primarily from the Aedes mosquito. Symptoms are usually mild, and can include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache, lasting from 2-7 days.  Usually no special treatment is required.  Rest and liquids is the remedy while recovering.
  2. The mosquito generally bites during the early morning and late afternoon/evening.
  3. Sexual transmission of Zika is also possible. It is rare, but a woman infected with Zika while pregnant can pass the virus on to the fetus, potentially causing microcephaly.  It is not recommended to travel to Zika areas while pregnant.

What can you do?

Prevention is obviously the best option!  Use clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover the body, sleep in rooms with window screens, and use insect repellent containing DEET.

Use contraception if sexually active, and consult a doctor to make informed choices about when to become pregnant after being in a Zika area.  The Center for Disease Control recommends women wait 8 weeks, men 6 months before starting a family.

Choose your hotel carefully.  Does it have screens on the windows?  (we do!) Is there standing water on the property? (a swimming pool is fine, though, due to the chlorinated water.) Does the hotel fumigate? (we do!)  We are taking every precaution, as should all hotels, to ensure the safety of the guests.

What is Costa Rica doing about it?

Costa Rica is working hard to combat Zika.  They are aggressively fumigating, there is community-wide garbage removal that has removed mosquito breeding grounds, and there has been country-wide education and monitoring.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Costa Rica has one of the best sanitation systems in Latin America.  Cases of Zika are lower than expected, 946 as of the end of September 7th.

Is there good news?

Yes!  Florida State University, with John Hopkins University and the National Institute of Health claims to be close to a vaccine.  They are testing drug compounds that could be approved quickly – one is already used to treat tapeworm.

Should I go on my trip?

The short answer is yes!  If you are not pregnant and don’t plan on getting pregnant, the risk is minimal.  Just be diligent about bug spray and birth control, and enjoy the beauty of Costa Rica.

Below are a few websites for up to date information:

Centers for Disease Control (USA)

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-virus-costa-rica-

WHO’s official fact sheet:

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/