Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne diseases Zika and dengue aren’t slowing down: The Zika virus continues to spread throughout theCaribbean and Brazil, and the mayor of Hawaii County, Billy Kenoi,declared a state of emergency on the Big Island on Monday in response to the increasing number of dengue cases there. Here is what you need to know if you are contemplating or already have plans to travel to a destination affected by either disease.Is it safe to travel to a destination affected by Zika or dengue?Dr. Ian Lipkin, an epidemiology professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, says that traveling to a Zika-infected destination is safe for the average traveler. Pregnant women, however, should avoid such travel; also, they shouldn’t have unprotected sex for the duration of their pregnancy with men who have traveled to Zika-infected areas because of the potential risk of brain damage to their unborn babies that may be transmitted through sperm.Dengue, on the other hand, can affect any traveler, but that doesn’t mean that it is unsafe to travel to a destination where it is present.Are there any vaccines you can take to protect yourself if you are traveling to places where there have been cases of these diseases?Dr. Lipkin says that there are no vaccines you can take to protect yourself from dengue or Zika. “There are vaccinations that are in the process of being developed but nothing out yet,” he said.
I have a trip booked to a Zika- or dengue-affected destination and want to cancel my plans. How flexible are hotels being with their cancellation policies in light of the disease?
Most of the large hotel brands like Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company don’t have any official cancellation policies and are reviewing requests for cancellations on a case-by-case basis. Jack Ezon, the president of the New York travel company Ovation Vacations who has had more than 80 trip cancellations because of Zika, says that hotels in Zika-affected areas are starting to become more amenable to refunds or giving guests credit for a future stay as the virus continues to spread.
The stickiness, he says, comes in areas that don’t have reported cases of Zika but are near a region that does. One example: Anguilla and St. Bart’s don’t have any reported Zika cases yet, but getting to either island usually requires connecting through St. Martin or San Juan, Puerto Rico, both of which are Zika-affected destinations. “If you have to travel through an affected destination to get to one that isn’t, the hotels in the latter aren’t as forgiving about refunds or credits,” Mr. Ezon said.
What about air carriers?
Domestic airlines have introduced policies when it comes to refunds, and almost all address Zika-affected destinations.
Delta Air Lines said that travelers with tickets to Zika-affected areas may qualify for a change to alternative destinations, travel dates or a refund. Also, they may make fee-waived changes to future reservations/tickets, but these changes need to be made by Feb. 29.
United Airlines said that customers who hold tickets to regions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are affected by the virus can postpone their trips or receive full refunds.
American Airlines said that pregnant travelers, along with their companions, who are concerned about traveling to a destination outside the United States that is affected by Zika, can request a refund. In order to receive a refund, they must provide a doctor’s note confirming their pregnancy, and stating that they are unable to travel because of the virus.
JetBlue will allow customers who have concerns about traveling to Zika-affected areas a refund or rebooking, a spokeswoman said.
Virgin America will let travelers who have tickets to any Mexican destinations — Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos — get a refund or change their flight free of charge, a spokesman said.
What’s the best way to protect yourself from taking a financial hit if you want to change your travel plans because of Zika or dengue?
Buy travel insurance, but the right kind. Stan Sandberg, a founder ofTravelInsurance.com, says that travelers heading to a Zika- or dengue-affected area should purchase a plan with a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) option; RoamRight and Travel Insured International are two companies that offer such plans.
What can we do to minimize the chance of contracting Zika or dengue?
The single best way to protect yourself is to use mosquito repellent. Each brand has different directions for frequency of application, but Dr. Lipkin says to use double of that recommendation. If your bottle suggests reapplying every four hours, for example, you should reapply every two hours. “If you’re outside in a warm climate, the repellent will evaporate faster because you’re likely perspiring,” he said.
Also, if you’re in a room that doesn’t have air-conditioning, he says that using a window, standing or table fan keeps mosquitoes at bay because the insects don’t have wings strong enough to fly against the current of the fan.
How would you know if you’ve contracted either Zika or dengue?
With both, you may have mild flu-like symptoms, a fever, a headache or severe joint pain. These usually appear within a week or 10 days of having been bitten by a mosquito carrying either virus. But you may have no symptoms at all, which means that you didn’t contract the virus. (Symptoms of severe dengue, which the C.D.C. says mostly affects children, are persistent vomiting, bleeding and difficulty breathing.)