The Zika outbreak and your travel rights

The World Health Organisation is advising pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. But what are your rights if you've already booked to travel?

Zika and your travel rights

According the the World Health organisation (WHO) Zika is a mosquito-borne infection caused by Zika virus. It is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is present in hot, humid locations. 

The WHO is advising pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks.

This advice is based on the increased risk of microcephaly and other congenital malformations in babies born to pregnant women infected with Zika virus. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth.

For people who are not pregnant and not likely to become pregnant, there’s no significant risk - but it's still a good idea to take precautions to minimise your chances of being bitten. 

You can do this by using insect repellent, wearing clothes that cover your skin and avoiding areas of where there is standing water at dawn or dusk.

If you've already booked to travel to somewhere with a Zika risk you may be able to rebook to an alternative destination. 

What should I do if I’ve already booked to travel?

We strongly advise you seek medical advice from your GP and talk to your travel provider, if you’re pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant within eight weeks after travel and you’re booked to travel to any of the destinations affected by Zika.

If your GP recommends that you don’t travel you should ask your them for a medical certificate to show your travel provider or insurance company.

If your GP has told you not to travel, most travel companies should let you rebook your holiday for an alternative destination – at worst this should only cost a small amendment fee.

The Association of British Insurers says if a doctor tells someone not to travel to a particular destination, then ‘most travel insurance policies will cover cancellation costs that cannot be reclaimed elsewhere.’

If you’ve booked car rental or accommodation separately, not as part of a package holiday, you might not be able to get a refund for these elements. If this is the case you should contact your travel insurer.

It’s important to check both the FCO travel advice and buy travel insurance which covers holiday arrangements from the moment the booking is made.

In all likelihood you’ll need to have booked your holiday before travel advice changed to make a successful claim.

Insect Repellent

Which? Travel have produced a buyer’s guide to insect repellent. They recommend that you look for products with higher percentages of the active ingredients.

You’ll need to reapply repellent every 6 hours, and even then 100% protection can’t be guaranteed.

There are two active ingredients that are effective against the Aedes aegypti mosquito which carries Zika:

  • DEET  Recommended by the NHS and the WHO, it’s been tested more extensively than other ingredients. It repels ticks and mosquitos, but has a strong smell, can irritate skin and damage plastics.
  • Picaridin  Recommended by the WHO, it’s effective against mosquitos but not ticks. It’s nearly odourless and rarely causes skin irritation.

Where is the Zika risk?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated its travel advice for a number of places in the Americas and recommends that you follow the health advice of The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNac) in relation to the Zika Virus

For an up to date Zika risk rating for countries, territories or areas you should check the gov.uk website.

Travelling to Florida and the USA

The risk in Florida is considered moderate, based on the number and spread of cases and their demonstrated ability to implement effective control measures for similar diseases such as dengue – a virus transmitted by the same mosquito.  

Travellers are advised to follow the FCO travel advice for the USA which states that you should follow the advice of the National Travel Health Network and Centre and discuss your travel plans with your healthcare provider, particularly if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated the potential range in the USA of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can carry the Zika virus.

More on this…

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