It seems like few can surf the web nowadays without coming across another story about how “scary” the Zika virus is and how quickly it’s spreading through the Americas, specifically in Puerto Rico. With all of the alarming Zika-related messaging, it’s easy to understand why travelers considering their summer vacation plans may be confused about choosing a destination.
Travelers interested in visiting Puerto Rico and other Caribbean destinations need to know the difference between the perceptions of the Zika virus and the realities to make fully informed travel plans. Understanding the real facts can mean the difference between having the vacation of a lifetime and regretting the trip they should have taken.
Perception #1 – Puerto Rico Is The Center of The Zika Virus in The Americas
THE FACTS – The current Zika virus outbreak did not begin in Puerto Rico. In May 2015, The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert that Zika virus transmission was active in Brazil. The first locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus were not detected by the CDC in Puerto Rico until December 2015. Soon after, the CDC has reported that several other countries in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean are experiencing active local Zika virus transmission.
THE REALITY – The current Zika virus outbreak started in South America and has spread to a number of Caribbean islands and throughout the Americas.
Perception #2 – Everyone Who Goes To Puerto Rico Will Get Infected With Zika
THE FACTS – Travelers can take simple, common-sense steps to help avoid getting the Zika virus. The easiest way to avoid contracting the virus is to take steps to prevent mosquito bites and wear proper clothing while enjoying the outdoors. The CDC suggests that all travelers stay up-to-date on the latest Zika news before their trip, and take the following preventive actions during their trip:
- Purchase and use an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)/para-menthane-diol (PMD), or IR3535.
- Follow instructions on repellent label and be sure to apply at proper intervals, as directed.
- When wearing sunscreen, be sure to apply sunscreen first, then repellent once sunscreen has dried. You want the repellent to be what mosquitos come into contact with, not the sunscreen.
- Cover exposed skin with long sleeves and long pants, when possible, especially when traveling through rainforests and around standing water.
- Keep all balcony doors and windows closed at night.
THE REALITY – Following a few, simple guidelines, all travelers can drastically reduce the likelihood of contracting the Zika virus.
Perception #3 – People All Over Puerto Rico Are Infected With Zika
THE FACTS – At this time, less than one half of one percent of the 3.5 million residents in Puerto Rico have contracted the Zika virus. More importantly, the majority of Zika cases are concentrated in areas away from typical tourist destinations. The Puerto Rican government has been working hand-in-hand with the CDC and the private sector to help combat the spread of Zika on the island. This collaboration has been paramount in keeping the number of Zika cases relatively low.
THE REALITY – A very small percentage of the Puerto Rican population has contracted Zika to-date.
Perception #4 – The CDC Has Banned All Travel To Areas With Zika Cases
THE FACTS – The CDC has three travel level warnings, Watch Level 1, Alert Level 2, and Warning Level 3. The CDC recently issued an Alert Level 2 notice to Puerto Rico (and other destinations), suggesting that travelers should “practice enhanced precautions” when traveling to Puerto Rico. In other words, the CDC is encouraging travelers to review its travel guidelines before traveling and follow its preventive precautions when on the island. Currently, visitors continue to enjoy Puerto Rico’s white sandy beaches, beautiful rainforests, and one-of-a-kind island culture on a daily basis.
THE REALITY – The CDC suggests travelers review its guidelines and take the proper precautions before traveling to Puerto Rico.
Perception #5 – The Zika Virus Can Have Serious Implications For Anyone Who Contracts It
THE FACTS – When it comes to the Zika virus, the general population has little to fear. According to the CDC, 80 percent of people infected with the virus never even show symptoms, and when they do, those symptoms are typically mild and usually last only two to seven days. These symptoms include, fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes)—symptoms that can be mitigated with rest, fluids, and everyday medication.
Currently, the CDC suggests that the Zika virus only poses a serious risk to pregnant women and those trying to conceive. Their guidelines indicate that women in any trimester should avoid travel to destinations where active local Zika virus transmission is occurring.
THE REALITY – The Zika virus can have serious implications for pregnant women and those planning to conceive. Those not in this group have little to fear when traveling to areas with active local Zika transmission.