Anyone who has recently been considering taking a gap year in South America or travelling to any region of Central America or the Caribbean in recent months has undoubtedly been advised of the potential new health threat – The Zika virus.
The Zika virus has made headlines globally due to its rapid spread. At first these headlines may indeed sound alarming, but what’s the truth behind the Zika virus and should it stop you from travelling abroad?
The Role Of The Media And Economic Impacts Of Epidemics
The word “virus” naturally has a negative connotation to it. Whenever there is an outbreak of any virus in the world, the media logically jumps on it and before you know it there is fear and misinformation flying around the news outlets and social media, often unjust and without clarification. The media also doesn’t think about the impact their news coverage might have on a country or region that depends on tourism.
The extensive media coverage the Zika virus has gotten is due to the fact that Zika mainly affects pregnant women and their unborn babies. Studies showed a correlation between the increase in Zika virus infections in pregnant women and birth defects of their children.
For non-pregnant people, the virus might have either no symptoms, mild symptoms, or in some cases symptoms similar to the flu as we experience it in Europe or the United States.
The country that has been most affected by the Zika virus to-date has been Brazil. With more than 1 million confirmed cases of the Zika virus, there have been only 3 deaths recorded that were related to a Zika virus infection. To put this number into perspective; there have been 3697 cases of deaths due to the flu in the United States alone in 2013.
While the media mostly talks about the Zika virus “in South America”, many South American countries have not had any Zika cases at all – large parts in the South and West of the continent are not affected, including Peru, Argentina and Chile. Ecuador so far has only been able to confirm a handful of sporadic Zika cases where the virus was locally contracted. Based on the country’s coverage of high altitude regions and therefore lack of mosquitoes transmitting it, Ecuadorians and Ecuador travellers luckily have an extremely low risk of catching the virus.
How To Stay Vigilant Against Mosquitoes
The real issue at hand is Mosquitoes.
Those little tiny creatures spread nothing but diseases, irritate us while jogging in the park, and their bites itch forever. Quite frankly, nobody even knows why they exist – plus they make a point of hanging out in all the warm tropical environments that we want to explore.
With this in mind, there are several practical measures that individuals can take to avoid insect bites. A combination of these measures is usually most effective, so let’s recap Insect Bite Avoidance 101:
- Wear clothing that covers as much of the body as possible to avoid bites.
- Spray an insecticide or repellent on thin clothes or exposed skin.
- Burning pyrethroid coils and heating insecticide impregnated tablets all help to control mosquitoes.
- Sleep under a mosquito net (and spray an insecticide/repellent on it).
- Garlic, Vitamin B and ultrasound devices do not prevent bites.
Don’t Let Zika Virus Keep You From Having The Adventure of a Life Time
Despite Julius Lutwama, a virologist in the country where Zika was discovered, saying Zika is “not a very important disease”, we should not undermine the severity the virus may have in rare cases, especially pregnant women.
I just ask you to try putting it into perspective. The valuable project work organisations do in South America is dependent on us and our volunteers. We help communities and we help with conservation and animal protection efforts. We also help these economies grow as at least 50% of the revenue stays in the countries we operate in.
We should remember, media outlets including social media have a tendency to exacerbate things. As opinions spread across our channels, factual and non-factual information spread fear.
So please, do not throw away your dream of going to South America and potentially the adventure of your life-time simply based on headlines in the news.
*Information in this article should not be considered medical advice. Always consult your doctor or GP before travelling abroad. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional.*