What you need to know about the Zika Virus before travelling

by Emma Hackwood
Mosquito biting a person

If you live in Canada, chances are you’ve heard a lot of talk in the media lately about the Zika Virus. Since this virus is spreading relatively quickly across Central and South America and causing concern amongst travellers, we’ve put together some important things to know, including which airlines and travel suppliers are offering changes and/or refunds.


What is the Zika Virus?

The Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. This mosquito-borne virus is new to South and Central America and is suspected to be connected with a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads and abnormal brain development. Although there is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection, the odds of developing the symptoms of the virus are still relatively low.


Who should be aware of this virus?

The largest danger is to pregnant woman. If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, then it is advised that you should avoid going to the countries where Zika outbreaks are currently occurring.

These countries include (but are not limited to) Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, Tonga, US Virgin islands, and Venezuela. We recommend you visit CDC’s Travelers Health website to see if the country you plan to visit has any travel health notices.


Don’t Panic

It has been noted that only one in five people who get Zika will develop symptoms. Those symptoms include fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, and red eyes — but keep in mind that this sickness is usually not as severe as some of the other nasty mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, malaria, yellow fever, or the West Nile virus. If you are a woman, are not pregnant, and you get Zika, don’t worry: the virus has been said to typically leave the system after a week, meaning it shouldn’t infect future babies you may have.


What you can do to avoid the virus

The best protection against Zika is to avoid travel to areas with an active infestation. If you do travel to a country where Zika is present, the CDC advises strict adherence to mosquito protection measures which include:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. All EPA-registered insect repellents are evaluated for effectiveness
  • If you are using sunscreen, apply it first and then put the insect repellant over top of it.
  • If you have a baby or child, dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs and spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.

For more tips on Mosquito bite prevention, check out this guide from the CDC.


Airlines/Suppliers offering ticket refunds/changes

If you need to cancel or change your travel plans, plenty of airlines, cruise lines and travel suppliers are working to help. The following list is current as of Feb 5th, 2016:

  • Air Canada/Air Canada Vacations – goodwill/change policy in effect for medically certified pregnant women and their travel companions if ticket was issued no later than Jan 26th with original travel dates up to June 30, 2016.
  • Westjet/Westjet Vacations – flexible change and cancellation applies to bookings travelling to affected countries with departures up to and including June 30, 2016.
  • Sunwing Vacations – change fees waived with receipt of a medical note
  • Signature Vacations – change fees waived with receipt of a medical note
  • Transat – pregnant women with a medical note can reschedule or change destinations if they were booked to fly to countries that have been listed by Pan American Health Organization as having the virus. Tour operator is not offering refunds and changes are only permitted for those staying in the same hotel room.
  • American Airlines – allowing pregnant travellers (with medical documentation) and their companions to request a refund when flying to one of the impacted regions.
  • United Airlines – allowing passengers to make changes or refund tickets to countries affected by virus. All changes must be made by Feb 29, 2016.
  • Delta Airlines – Customers may qualify for a change to alternate destinations, travel dates or a refund.
  • Alaska Airlines – Waiver offered if customers wish to change, postpone or cancel travel plans that meet requirements (and are travelling between Jan 28 – Feb 29, 2016)
  • LAN and TAM – After submitting a medical certificate stating the number of pregnancy weeks, passengers with tickets can change flights without penalty but subject to fare differences.
  • Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club – alternate itinerary options available for pregnant passengers. This may include a future travel credit valid for two years so that they may re-schedule their voyage for a later date with no penalty.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line- Pregnant passengers may reschedule their cruise for a future date in the next two years or change itinerary to a non-affected destination.
  • Manulife Insurance – If a client has purchased a policy that includes Trip Cancellation and Interruption, for travel insurance purchased on or before Jan 11, 2016 and where the travel itinerary includes any of the countries where the Public Health Notice was posted, Manulife Financial will consider any claims submitted by any insured pregnant clients and their travel companion(s) in light of any special or unique circumstances. Please contact your travel consultant for more information.


Finally, if you plan to travel to the affected areas, it’s always encouraged to get travel insurance. Not because it will cover you if you want to get a refund, but because if you were to come down with the virus, it would cover your medical expenses. If you do want to be covered in case of cancellation, consider getting a “Cancel for Any Reason” clause in your travel insurance. If you need help understanding what policy is best for you, a Flight Centre Travel Expert can review travel insurance options and help you decide, and for more complex questions and situations can work with the insurer to offer further clarification.


For more information on travel suppliers offering travel changes or to change your upcoming travel plans booked through Flight Centre, get in touch with us by calling 1-877-967-5302, visiting your closest store, or connecting with us online.


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