Fact vs. Fear: What One Doctor Wants You to Know About Zika and Travel

09 - EL Morro

No matter where in the world one travels, there are always steps that need to be taken and precautions that need to be considered. For those planning to travel to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean destinations this summer, that means getting the real facts on the Zika virus. But with all the different information out there, it can be difficult to differentiate facts from fear. That’s why the Puerto Rico Tourism Company has put together a list of facts travelers need to know about Zika in Puerto Rico…with esteemed epidemiologist and former director of the smallpox eradication team, Dr. D.A. Henderson weighing in:


  1. Should travelers avoid destinations with active Zika transmission?


Contracting the Zika virus during pregnancy may cause developmental problems and birth defects—including microcephaly—so if pregnant, avoid travelling to Puerto Rico.  If planning to conceive in the near future, follow CDC guidelines and consult with a physician before travelling to places where the Zika virus is active.  For all other travelers, however, it’s important to keep the threat of Zika in perspective.


According to Dr. Henderson, “Unless you are pregnant or planning to conceive, there’s no reason to avoid traveling to destinations where Zika may be present. If you use common sense precautions to avoid mosquito bites, like applying insect repellent and wearing protective clothing, any threat of Zika infection can be easily managed.”


  1. Is Puerto Rico safe to travel to? Is the virus everywhere?


Despite projections that nearly 20 percent of Puerto Ricans will have Zika by the end of the year, less than one half of one percent of the population has been infected with the virus to-date. Dr. Henderson believes that the current “over- reaction and hype about Zika is not warranted or helpful. The healthcare industry and the laboratories have a lot to benefit from a several billion dollar infusion for research and control efforts, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, and in fact many exposed populations will truly benefit, however it helps us understand the situation and keeps the Zika hype in perspective.”


With the proper information and an understanding of the real situation on the ground, travelers can make educated decisions about their travel plans and continue to book Puerto Rico as their go-to getaway destination.


  1. Is Puerto Rico the center of a U.S. epidemic?


While the number of cases in Puerto Rico are expected to rise over the summer months, Dr. Henderson sees “no evidence to suggest that Puerto Rico is the epicenter of the Zika outbreak,” nor does he “see signs that it will become an epidemic in the U.S.” The more information travelers have, the easier it will be to differentiate hype from facts.


  1. What is Puerto Rico doing to protect visitors?


The PRTC has been working closely with the CDC, local health officials, the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA), Meet Puerto Rico, and other industry partners to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds in tourist areas, educate visitors about preventing mosquito bites, and ensure that visitors are informed about Zika in Puerto Rico. Echoing Dr. Henderson’s sentiments that “any threat of Zika infection can be easily managed” with “common sense precautions,” the PRTC has implemented a comprehensive education and outreach campaign to keep travelers up to date on the latest CDC guidelines for mosquito bite prevention, symptoms, transmission and more. By focusing on the 3Ps—Protection, Prevention, Precaution—Puerto Rico and the PRTC are working hard to ensure that visitors have a worry-free experience on the island.


For more information about Zika in Puerto Rico, visit the Puerto Rico Now Homepage.