Zika | When, Where & Where Not to Worry
Yesterday we touched down in Costa Rica for a week of jungle and beach time. We encountered the country's scent before any other aspect. Departing the plane onto the jetway, we traded stale airplane air for the lush air of Costa Rica. It almost smelled musty, the mixture of heavy rains and decomposing flora. Welcoming though. The moisture wrapped itself around us and hugged us hello.
As with all international flights, we headed from the jetway to customs where we zig-zagged through the line dividers until it was our turn to get our passports stamped by immigration. As we waited for the immigration official to swipe our passports through the machine, we heard a "fshhhhhh, fshhhhhh."
A woman was spraying bug spray on herself. In line for immigration. Before having even set foot outside the airport. She was spraying bugspray on herself while standing in line in a tiled white room, the most sterile of settings.
Our small interaction with Costa Rican air had been on the jetway, and I hadn't seen a single bug, let alone a mosquito. But, her surprisingly proactive move to prevent bugs from landing on her reminded me that people are scared to travel to places like Costa Rica where cases of Zika have been reported.
We've been staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa at the base of the Arenal Volcano, entrenched in the jungle for over 24 hours, and I haven't seen or been bit by a mosquito yet. Not a one. We even when on a 5 mile hike to Cerro Chato, a crater lake at the top of a dormant volcano, and still no mosquitoes. I did get bit by one bug, and there is an ant crawling on my computer as I type, but this is the jungle! Bugs are everywhere (albeit not nearly as much a nuisance as I originally thought they would be). Anyway, I digress. More on our adventures later.
The point is, people are cancelling their vacations from fear of Zika, and that seems about as over the top as the woman spraying bug spray on herself waiting in line to go through immigration.
So far this year, only 12 cases of Zika have been reported in Costa Rica, and they have all occurred in the canton of Nicoya, an area that makes up just 2.6% of Costa Rica's area as a whole.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus usually only stays in your system for a week. The symptoms are mild and people usually feel better in a about a week. So while Zika is a real threat to the local residents of affected areas, the only tourists that should avoid Zika areas are pregnant women. And even then, there is no need to avoid an entire country, but merely the places the disease has been reported.
Places to Avoid if You're Afraid of Contracting Zika
- Brazil (particularly the state of Pernambuco) | Reported cases of microcephaly, a disease that causes babies to be born with smaller heads and potential brain damage, and that is linked to Zika, spiked 2,300% from 2014 to 2015. Over 31,000 laboratory confirmed cases of Zika in the country.
- Colombia | Supposedly on the decline, but with 6,400 confirmed cases in the past year, Colombia's Zika problem still puts it at #2 on the list of places to avoid if you're avoiding Zika.
- Puerto Rico | Chikungunya and Dengue should be more of a worry to travelers, but Zika is becoming another mosquito borne illness that Puerto Ricans are having to defend against. There have been 1,100 confirmed cases of Zika in the last year.
- Martinique | Only 12 confirmed cases, but 25,000 suspected. That's quite the number for an island with a population of 386,000.
The Pan American Health Association has published this handy map, which shows how many laboratory confirmed cases and how many suspected cases of Zika a country has had in the last year.
If this wasn't enough Zika information for you, The New York Times published Zika Rumors and Theories that You Should Doubt.
In the end you have to do what you're comfortable with because vacations should be enjoyable. And if you're worrying about something the entire time whether it's logical or not, you're not going to have a good time. But we'd encourage you to not cancel your trip if you're not pregnant or not trying to get someone else pregnant. There's a whole world of things that can go wrong when you travel, but for the most part, things turn out okay.