Zika Virus in South America
The Zika virus is spread to people through being bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Only one in five people with the virus ever develop symptoms. The most common symptoms of the Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe cases requiring hospitalization are uncommon. The virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week. To date, outbreaks of Zika have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and more recently, the Americas. As of May 2016, the Zika outbreak in South America has been reported in: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
The DIRESA - Regional Health Direction of Loreto in Peru are taking preventative measures to control the virus from developing. The Peruvian authorities have also been working with private companies in the tourism sector to roll out a schedule of fumigation for hotels, restaurants and other tourist establishments in the North and Amazon areas of Peru as a preventive measure. It's important to note that areas above 2,000 meters above sea level (6500 feet) are free from the presence of the Zika-carrying mosquito. Therefore, Arequipa (2,335 m.s.n.m), Puno (3,800 m.s.n.m.), Cusco (3,400 m.s.n.m.), Machu Picchu (2,430 m.s.n.m.), and other important tourist areas within the Sacred Valley are safe.
You are unlikely to encounter the Zika virus in locations such as the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos National Park has reinforced its strong environmental controls to mitigate any possible extension of the virus. Typically one does not encounter many mosquitoes in the Galapagos to begin with, though there will be more than usual in 2016 due to El Niño.
Mosquitos in the Amazon Rainforest
The largest tributary of the Amazon River, the Rio Negro in Brazil, is almost bug free. Despite its name, the water is like a transparent dark tea, because of an acidic pH level and appears dark due to tannins. It is the acidic levels that keep the bugs away from the area. The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, where most Peruvian Amazon river cruises are operated, is an area that has not been affected and has a low-risk of doing so.
Nevertheless, even if you are travelling to a non-affected area, it is important to take the following steps:
- Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants
- Use insect repellents containing DEET
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings.
- Take Vitamin B starting two weeks before your trip starts (a natural repellent)
- Use mosquito net as an option for additional protection
For more information, view our How Bad are Bugs in the Amazon article.
To Travel or Not To Travel?
We recommend travelers to continue monitoring news about the Zika virus on the CDC Website and, as always, consult with their healthcare provider before traveling abroad. We strongly advise travelers buy travel insurance that covers cancellation. Travel insurance from World Nomads can be purchased via our website here.
At this time, the Centre for Disease and Control (CDC) is recommending that:
Pregnant Women should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional first and strictly follow the necessary steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare professional before traveling to these areas.
Please Contact Us if you would like more information or if you would like to talk about your upcoming trip to South America.