01 Mar

Zika Virus

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)  has updated its travel advice for a number of countries in Central and South America, some Caribbean islands, Cape Verde, Fiji, American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Thailand and the Maldives to reflect the health advice of The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNac) in relation to the Zika Virus.

ZIKV is a dengue-like virus that is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. The infection often occurs without symptoms but can also cause an illness similar to dengue. The condition is usually mild and short-lived; severe disease is uncommon and insect bite avoidance measures are recommended.

Recently, a possible link between exposure to Zika virus (ZIKV) in pregnancy and microcephaly and other congenital malformations has been identified and investigations are ongoing. Whilst investigations continue, NaTHNaC advises that it is recommended that pregnant women should postpone non-essential travel to areas with active Zika transmission until after pregnancy. This is a change to the previous advice which encouraged pregnant women to consider avoiding travel and seek travel health advice.

In addition it is recommended that women should avoid becoming pregnant while travelling in an area with active Zika virus transmission, and for 28 days following return home.  If a woman develops symptoms compatible with Zika virus infection on her return to the UK, it is recommended she avoids becoming pregnant for a further 28 days following recovery.  If travel is unavoidable, or you live in areas where ZIKV is reported, you should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures, both during daytime and night time hours. 

Symptoms of Zika virus infection may include fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis/red eyes, headache, muscle pain and eye pain. No specific anti-viral treatment is available for Zika virus infection

ABTA advises that pregnant women already booked to travel to any of the destinations affected, should seek medical advice from their GP and talk to their travel provider. Where it is necessary to change or cancel their holiday arrangements in light of the NaTHNaC advice, they should request that their GP provides them with a medical certificate in order to assist with them with any possible insurance claim.

Those planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider to assess their risk of infection with ZIKV and receive advice on mosquito bite avoidance measures.

This new health advice from NaTHNaC highlights just how important it is to both check the FCO travel advice and buy travel insurance which covers holiday arrangements from the moment the booking is made.

Visit the FCO website and select your destination country for the latest travel advice.

Preventing sexual transmission

A number of cases of sexual transmission of Zika virus have been reported, and in a limited number of cases, the virus has been shown to be present in semen. The risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus is thought to be very low.

NaTHNaC are advising condom use is advised for male travellers if their partner is pregnant, during travel and for the duration of the pregnancy.  If there is a risk of pregnancy, or pregnancy is planned, condom use is advised during travel and for 28 days on return from an active Zika transmission area even if the male traveller does not have any symptoms compatible with Zika virus infection. If a clinical illness compatible with Zika virus infection has been suspected or confirmed, this advice should be followed for 6 months following the start of symptoms.

Even if not pregnant or planning to be, couples who wish to reduce the very low risk of virus transmission may consider using condoms if the man has had clinical illness compatible with Zika infection.

We will continue to monitor the Zika virus situation closely and will provide updates as appropriate.