What is Zika?
Zika fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease caused by Zika virus (ZIKV). One out of four people may develop symptoms similar to dengue fever and consist of mild fever, a bumpy rash, headaches, joint pain and conjunctivitis, that can last between two and seven days. The World Health Organisation says people affected should drink plenty of fluids, ensure they rest regularly and treat pain and fever with common medicines.
In some states in Brazil where Zika virus has been circulating in recent months, there has been a marked increase in cases of newborns with microcephaly, a condition that causes abnormal brain development, which can occur in the womb or during infancy. According to a preliminary analysis of research carried out by Brazilian authorities, the greatest risk of microcephaly and malformations is associated with infection during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Is it treatable?
There is no vaccine or medication available to prevent or treat Zika infections.
Which countries are affected?
Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela. A map on the Pan American Health Organisation website is updated weekly.
Should I cancel my holiday?
Only if you are pregnant. Nathnac (the government travel health advisory body) recommends that pregnant women should “consider avoiding travel” to areas where Zika outbreaks are currently reported. If travel is unavoidable, or you live in areas where Zika is reported, you should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures, both during daytime and night time hours. Remember to inform your obstetrician or midwife if you have recently travelled to a country where Zika is known to occur. Other travellers should take basic precautions to prevent bites. More information on the WHO website.
Will my travel insurance cover me if I have to cancel my trip?
If you are already pregnant and have a doctor’s certificate saying you should not travel, it should be a straightforward insurance claim. That is because news of the rise of Zika and its potential effects is a new development. If you are pregnant and book in a month or two, you may find your insurance company refuses to reimburse you on the grounds that you should have been aware of the dangers, says Sean Tipton, spokesperson for travel association Abta. He adds that the best advice is to always check the Foreign Office advice, which is constantly updated.