Zika Virus: An FYI for Cruisers
(Last updated: 5/18/16)
Scared of contracting Zika virus? You're not alone. We've compiled a handy cheat-sheet of what the world knows thus far about Zika virus, and what you should know--and pack--before going on a cruise.
- Zika is a virus that only shows symptoms 80% of the time; it seems to be a lot like the flu
- There is a huge concern about Zika and pregnant women; as infection rates have soared in Brazil, so have birth defects (microcephaly) in babies born to women who were infected with the virus at some point during their pregnancy.
- Zika is now “spreading explosively” in the Americas and the Caribbean
- A recent study revealed a link between Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare, autoimmune condition that attacks nerve cells and causes paralysis.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to Zika-affected regions. Cruise lines are supporting these recommendations by offering flexible rebooking and future cruise credits to pregnant women and their companions.
- The CDC recently updated their interim guidelines for healthcare providers caring for pregnant women and women of reproductive age who may have been exposed to Zika.
- At this time, there is no cure or vaccine for Zika
- For those who are in Zika-affected areas, the best prevention is to protect yourself against mosquito bites
- Update: Europe is on alert for a possible spread of Zika virus. While reports say that it's not expected to spread extensively in this region, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is monitoring the situation closely.
What is Zika Virus?
Zika virus has been around since 1947 in Uganda, and recently became a global health concern as infected women in Brazil have been giving birth to babies with microcephaly. Most recently, a study revealed that Zika has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare, autoimmune condition that attacks nerve cells and causes paralysis. Zika is generally spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. However, the CDC has confirmed that the Zika can also be spread through sexual contact and through contact with infected blood. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, rash and conjunctivitis. Only 1-in-5 people infected with Zika experience any symptoms. However, pregnant women, women trying to conceive and--as of recently--women of reproductive age must be extra cautious when traveling to a Zika-infected area.
There is no cure or vaccine for Zika.
What countries are affected by Zika virus?
Zika virus is predominantly present in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, travel-related cases have been on the rise in the U.S, most notably in Florida, New York and Texas. There have been talks of the virus possiblt spreading to parts of Europe as well. There are currently no documented cases of the virus in that region, and if it indeed makes it to areas of Europe, the threat is suspected to be low-to-moderate compared to other Zika-affected regions. Here's a breakdown of where the virus currently resides, courtesy of the CDC--although this information is subject to change as the situation develops:
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- Marshall Islands
- New Caledonia
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Martin
- St. Lucia
- Trinidad and Tobago
- American Samoa
- Cape Verde
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- Puerto Rico
- US Virgin Islands
How are cruise lines responding to the Zika virus?
Cruise lines have been flexible in offering alternate itineraries or future cruise credits to any pregnant woman. Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have been active in communicating their willingness to accommodate guests’ desires to alter itineraries or dates.
Travel insurance coverage varies, and some policies do not cover Zika. Norwegian Cruise Line, however, has announced that guests who purchased a Travel Protection policy can opt to cancel, as it's covered under the "Cancel for Any Reason" portion.
While specifics regarding cruise lines and Zika virus are still evolving, we will communicate updates regarding Zika virus and its effect on cruisers via our weekly Cruise News blog.
How to best protect yourself from Zika virus while on a cruise.
The bad news? There is currently no known cure for Zika, nor is there a vaccine to help prevent or treat it. Even if you're cruising to a region that is currently unaffected by the virus, it's still important to protect yourself in the event that you come across someone who's been to one of these areas. The good news? There are ways to protect yourself while cruising; it's all about what you pack. Our recommendations:
Use Bug Spray
Deep Woods OFF! Repellent contains 25% DEET (the CDC recommends using an insect repellent that contains at least 20%), while Repel 100 contains 98.11%. Lemon Eucalyptus is also an essential ingredient recommended by the CDC to help avoid insect bites.
Wear Protective Clothing
Packing long sleeved shirts, pants, socks and closed shoes to keep your body covered from potential mosquito invasions. For extra protection, you can even purchase clothing that is treated with Permethrin, an insect repellent that lasts for a few washes.
We think these options fit the Latin American/Caribbean cruising vibe well (while still promoting safety, of course):
InsectGuard Blanket (80 x 62 in) (great for a beach day in port)
Ok, so the Protective Mesh Shirt won't be making headlines at New York Fashion Week, but if you really want the ultimate coverage, go for it.
The Bottom Line
You can't completely escape mosquitoes; the key is to decrease your chances of getting bitten while this disease remains a threat. Even if you don't fall under the category of individuals who are most affected by Zika, err on the side of caution by packing these provisions before setting sail.
Most importantly, speak to your healthcare provider before travelling to any area affected by Zika. And if you're in the clear for cruising, throw on your finest protective mesh shirt and enjoy your vacation.