6 things every traveler should know about the Zika virus

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What Zika Virus Is — and Isn't

If there's one thing we know about travelers, it's that they have a lot on their minds. And who can blame them? From terrorist attacks to travel warnings in popular vacation destinations across the globe, there's plenty to cause concern for the wanderlust crowd among us.

Sadly, the Zika virus is merely the latest alarm bell for travelers. If you're wondering whether it's a smart idea to modify your plans in light of recent outbreaks, here's what you need to know.
What are the latest developments?

The White House has requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding from Congress to combat the virus. A Reuters/lpsos poll released on Feb. 8 found that 41 percent of travelers say they're less likely to travel to Latin America and the Caribbean. And according to the poll, two-thirds of Americans have now heard of the virus, up from 45 percent in January.

Most of the concern surrounds pregnant women and birth defects. Brazil's eastern coast is ground zero for the virus, where officials say this year there have been 3,500 reported cases of microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with impaired brain development. That's up from 100 to 200 cases per year before the return of the virus last May. Zika first appeared in Uganda in 1947, but has largely been seen as a minor virus found in Africa and Asia. It was thought to have been eradicated until the recent outbreak of the mosquito-transmitted disease.

What countries are currently at risk?

The virus is spreading largely around warm-weather climates in Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus is carried by Aedes mosquitos, which tend to bite more frequently during the daytime. There is also some research that the virus can be spread through saliva or sexual activity, but for now, the main threat comes from being bit by a mosquito carrying the virus.

See photos of microcephaly caused by Zika:
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Brazil reporting more microcephaly cases, defect cause by Zika
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6 things every traveler should know about the Zika virus
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The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is thought to have been a major cause of the reappearance, as millions of fans worldwide descended on Brazil for the games. For this reason, there is a widespread concern that the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games could have the same impact (though Olympics organizers downplay the threat, pointing out that city workers are destroying breeding grounds and that the cool August temperatures will keep mosquitos away).

Beyond Brazil, there are more than 30 reported cases of Zika thus far in the U.S., all from travelers who returned from visits to infected countries. There are two kinds of Aedes mosquitos that could pose a risk to U.S. residents: the yellow fever Aedes and the Asian tiger Aedes. Researchers believe that Hawaii, Florida and destinations along the Gulf Coast are the only U.S. locales warm enough for the yellow-fever Aedes mosquito to thrive though the Zika-transmitting mosquitos have been found as far north as Washington, D.C. in extremely hot weather. Asian tiger mosquitos have also been found in northern cities, such as New York City and Chicago, in the summer.

That hasn't stopped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's command center from declaring a Level 1 alert – a status they have only reached three times: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, the H1N1 flu crisis in 2009 and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The action not only raises attention for prevention of the virus spreading to the U.S. but also the need for resources to combat the spread of the virus.

What are the latest travel advisories?

Pregnant travelers are being advised to avoid travel to the Caribbean and Latin America region, where Zika is currently most prevalent. If you're pregnant and you've traveled to a country where Zika virus has been present in the past three months, the CDC recommends that you consult your doctor. If you've had a fever, rash, joint pain or blood shot eyes within two weeks after returning from traveling to an affected country, your doctor will run a blood test for the virus.

What are key symptoms of the virus?

In 80 percent of people infected, symptoms never show. But in the worst-case scenario, it's going to feel like the flu. According to health officials, symptoms will usually show between the third and seventh day the virus is in your body. Most people infected recover within seven days as the immune system clears the virus.

How can you prevent contracting the virus while traveling?

There is currently no treatment or vaccine against Zika. Researchers are confident they can develop a vaccine by the end of the summer, but for now, the best way to protect yourself is to carry mosquito nets and insect repellant with you if you are traveling to an infected country.

Should you cancel your trip?

A February survey conducted by the Travel Leaders Group, a heavyweight in the travel agent industry, showed that 93 percent of travel agents said they have had no cancelations from clients ages 60 and up. And when it comes to millennials, 74 percent of agents said they had no cancelations with travelers in their 20s and 30s.

"Armed with the facts, most travelers are opting to travel even as they heed expert advice for avoiding mosquito bites," said Nina Chacko, chief executive for the Travel Leaders Group.

Outside of mosquito protection, your best defense as a traveler is to purchase travel insurance. Policies usually run no more than $200 and can protect you against any calamity you may incur during travels, including illness.

If you've purchased a trip to affected countries and are too nervous to travel, most airlines –including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines – are offering full refunds to fliers who booked flights to impacted countries.

The bottom line: If you're pregnant, avoid travel to Brazil and all impacted countries (the CDC is constantly updating that list here). For other destinations across Latin America and the Caribbean, the Zika threat is no more than any other peril that travelers face. Take precautions, but enjoy your trip.

See more on Zika in the gallery below:
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Zika, health agents trying to eradicate Zika mosquitoes in South America, Central America
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6 things every traveler should know about the Zika virus
RECIFE, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 01: David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who was born with microcephaly, is examined by a doctor on February 1, 2016 in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. Ferreira's mother says she spends up to eight hours per day in transit on buses, three days per week, to visit a litany of doctors with David. In the last four months, authorities have recorded thousands of cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a 'public health emergency of international concern' today. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Health ministry personnel fumigate a classroom against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, vector of the dengue, Chikungunya and Zika viruses in Tegucigalpa, , on February 1, 2016. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on Friday declared the country on a preventive state of alert due to the Zika virus which in the last 44 days killed a person and infected some 1000. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA. / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Migente foundation check mosquito traps in the Paris neighborhood, Bello municipality, Antioquia department, Colombia on January 26, 2016. The Study and Control of Tropical Diseases Program (PECET) of Antioquia's University released one year ago Aedes aegypti mosquitos carrying the Wolbachia pipientis bacteria, which prevents them from transmitting the Zika and dengue viruses, as part of project to fight dengue. The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease suspected of causing serious birth defects, is expected to spread to all countries in the Americas except Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization said. AFP PHOTO /Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP / -- / RAUL ARBOLEDA (Photo credit should read RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A photographer walks through the fumes as Health Ministry employee fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador, on January 21, 2016. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome in fetuses. AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Army soldiers check for Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae during a clean-up operation against the insect, which transmits the Zika virus, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 22, 2016. AFP PHOTO/Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP / Miguel Schincariol (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)
Army soldiers check for Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae during a clean-up operation against the insect, which transmits the Zika virus, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 22, 2016. AFP PHOTO/Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP / Miguel Schincariol (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)
Army soldiers check for Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae during a clean-up operation against the insect, which transmits the Zika virus, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 22, 2016. AFP PHOTO/Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP / Miguel Schincariol (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)
A health agent from the Sao Paulo secretariat of public health and army soldiers check for Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae during a clean-up operation against the insect, which transmits the Zika virus, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 22, 2016. AFP PHOTO/Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP / Miguel Schincariol (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)
A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador, on January 21, 2016. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome in fetuses. AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador, on January 21, 2016. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome in fetuses. AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador, on January 21, 2016. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome in fetuses. AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Health ministry employees spray to eliminate breeding sites of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits diseases such as the dengue, chicunguna and Zica viruses, in a Tegucigalpa cemetery on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cementery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the Nueva Esperanza graveyard as it is fumigated in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
A pregnant woman is attended at the Maternal and Children's Hospital in Tegucigalpa on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
A pregnant woman waits to be attended at the Maternal and Children's Hospital in Tegucigalpa on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in containers at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, on January 8, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal are in Brazil to train local researchers to combat the Zika virus epidemic. / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in containers at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, on January 8, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal are in Brazil to train local researchers to combat the Zika virus epidemic. / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
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