The mosquito-borne Zika virus has all but disappeared from the headlines for now, but it has not disappeared from Central and South America. With eight Globalteer projects located in four countries in Latin America, many volunteers are asking how they can minimise risks of catching the virus and how worried they should be in the first place.
So, here is our overview of the risks for volunteers travelling or planning to travel to one of our projects in Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica or Argentina. Do bear in mind that while there does seem to be a consensus on our advice, we are not professional health experts and we always recommend that you consult a health professional before any overseas trip, particularly to the developing world.
Where can you catch it?
The virus can be found in many countries in Latin America, but remember, even if you are in country that does have Zika, you can’t catch it if you don’t get bitten by a zika-carrying mosquito, and don’t get intimate with someone who is already infected.
Geographically, the good news is that there are currently no reported cases of Zika being transmitted from mosquito to human in either Peru or Argentina. This situation may change but you can check the up-to-date Zika map from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control here or from the US Centers for Disease Control.
Even better news is that if you are thinking of travelling to Cusco to volunteer with our community or dog rescue projects the risk of catching Zika will always be extremely low as the Zika mosquito does not usually survive about 2,000 metres and Cusco is over 3,000 metres!
For your peace of mind we have also checked the relevant UK, US and Australian government departments and even where the virus is present, there is currently no advice against travel to these countries unless you are pregnant, are likely to become pregnant soon after you leave the area, or if you have a weakened immune system.
How do you catch the virus?
The Zika virus is transmitted by one particular type of mosquito found in tropical and sub-tropical zones, and possibly through unprotected sex with a partner infected with the virus. As ever, prevention is the best advice if you are traveling to a Zika area, which means following the usual advice about avoidance of mosquito bites. This is always a good idea as mosquitoes can carry other diseases too and even if they don’t, bites are very annoying.
Practising safe sex is strongly advised when travelling anyway, and not just for the possible risk of catching Zika if you happen to hook up with someone who may be infected.
How serious is Zika?
Many people who do catch Zika experience no symptoms at all and for those that do they can often be mild. It is also rare for normally healthy people to experience any complications. There is growing evidence of a link between Zika virus and a serious brain condition in babies called Microcephaly. This is thought to be caused by mothers infected with the virus passing it onto their unborn child during pregnancy.
For more information visit Travel Health Pro
What about insurance?
All policies are different so we suggest that you check with your insurance provider to see what is covered by your policy.
In summary, would we travel to a Zika zone? As a heathy, non-pregnant person who always uses mosquito repellent we would definitely still travel.