A guide to the Zika virus and travelling

If you’re travelling to areas with increased chances of catching the Zika virus, here’s everything you need to know.

Zika virus concept

For the majority of travellers, the Zika virus shouldn’t be a huge cause for concern. However, this isn’t the case for everyone, and particular care should be taken if you’re pregnant, or intending to become pregnant.

Here we look at what the Zika virus is, where the hotspots are, and whether you should travel to areas where instances of Zika have been reported.

What is the Zika virus?

It’s a virus which is spread largely by mosquitoes, specifically the aedes aegypti - otherwise known as the yellow fever mosquito. These unpleasant little beasts are also responsible for the spread of dengue fever, chikungunya and Mayaro. They’re recognisable by white markings, mostly on their legs. The aedes mosquito is usually active in the daytime.

Although the Zika virus is mostly spread by mosquito bites, it can also be sexually transmitted - although the risk is considered to be low.

Zika virus symptoms - is it harmful? 

Zika’a mostly not harmful and tends to bring about just a mild infection lasting between a couple of days to a week. Symptoms can include:

  • A rash
  • Fever
  •  Muscle and joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Conjunctivitis   

However, you’re at a greater risk if you’re pregnant. Zika has been linked with birth defects - particularly microcephaly, where the baby is born with an abnormally small head.

For this reason, anybody who’s pregnant or looking to become pregnant should weigh up the potential risks of travelling to areas where the Zika virus is more prevalent. 

Equally, if you’re in a couple looking to have children and one of you gets the Zika virus, you should avoid attempts to get pregnant until the virus has passed.

What medication is there for Zika?

As Zika is transmitted primarily by mosquito bites, it’s worth taking steps to prevent them. Use a strong insect repellent, such as those containing DEET, on exposed skin. And covering up with light clothing is a good idea too.

At the time of writing (May 2019), there are no vaccines or drugs for the Zika virus. The best advice if you contract Zika is to take painkillers like paracetamol, and get plenty of rest.

Where are the Zika virus hotspots?

The Zika virus is more common in countries to which the Aedes mosquito is native, which are usually tropical and temperate countries. There have been cases of Zika in:

  • the USA, Mexico and Caribbean
  • all Central American countries
  • all South American countries, with the exception of Chile and Uruguay
  • a dozen countries in west, central and east Africa
  • most southeast Asian countries, including India, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an interactive Zika map, so you can see all countries with reported cases of Zika.

Should I travel to somewhere with Zika?

At the time of writing, there are no countries that are categorised at ‘outbreak’ level. If there were, pregnant women should not travel to those areas.There are a significant number of countries with past or current cases of transmission. Here caution is advised for pregnant women, or anyone looking to get pregnant.

Does my travel insurance cover the Zika virus?

Most cases of the Zika virus bring about a brief and mild illness which rarely results in hospitalisation so the majority of cases of Zika won’t require a travel insurance claim to be made. But bear in mind, your travel insurance will be invalidated if you travel to areas you’re advised against travelling to. At the time of writing (May 2019), there are no areas of reported Zika outbreak.

You can never be too cautious when it comes to your health while travelling, and the consequences of contracting the Zika virus while pregnant can be severe. A good pregnancy travel insurance policy should cover you for most medical emergencies abroad. Find out more about the cost of becoming ill abroad.