Is Zika still an issue or am I OK to travel to South America?
Your chances of getting Zika in South America are very slim. Using data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the gambling website casino.org calculated the chances of getting Zika as 1 in 250,000 for a tourist going to the Rio Games – compared to the chance of being struck by lightning of 1 in 175,000. What’s more, you’re fine in Chile; the Aedes mosquito that carries the virus doesn’t exist there – nor in northern Europe, so we’re unlikely to see a mass outbreak in the UK.
And avoiding South America isn’t necessarily going to help because Zika has now been found in mosquitoes as far afield as Florida, Fiji and Singapore. Of the 244* cases confirmed in the UK, the vast majority were contracted by travellers to the Caribbean. Around 60 global destinations* are now considered high risk by the Foreign Office, and pregnant women are advised to avoid these because Zika can cause microcephaly and other potential birth defects.
For the rest of us, the World Health Organisation says to cover up, wear a repellent containing DEET, IR3535 or Picaridin, and avoid unprotected sex at the destination and for six months after returning from a Zika area. The latter is because it’s unclear how long the virus stays in the body and most people don’t display any symptoms, so you might not know you have it.
If you do have symptoms, which might include headache, fever and rash, they will likely be mild and disappear in about a week, although in rare cases, the virus can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious condition of the peripheral nervous system, and potentially to other neurological conditions. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet an approved vaccine for Zika, but early trials have shown promising results, so hopefully a preventative jab will be available in the near future.