I’m a little disappointed, though completely unsurprised, by the current furore surrounding the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas.
The world’s press have the notorious habit of creating mass hysteria over something as unthreatening as a bowl of pasta, with little to no consideration of the effects of irresponsible reporting.
Whilst not scientifically proven, there does seem to be some link between Zika and possible birth defects in the offspring of women who contracted the virus whilst pregnant. There is not however, much evidence of a sudden explosion in mosquito numbers in Latin America or the Caribbean, or that the Zika virus is even remotely dangerous to those in good health with no plans to start a family. Whether Zika virus can be contracted through sexual transmission is also negligible. The virus is also less prevalent than it’s sister ailment Dengue, which is responsible for 12,500 deaths per year and produces far stronger symptoms.
Truth be told, there will always be risks associated with travelling and I’m well-acquainted with the travellers’ perverse desire to seek danger and uncertainty in unfamiliar places. The risks tend to multiply when travelling into developing countries. Every four minutes someone dies on the roads in India. Each year, Malaria accounts for a million deaths worldwide and there are an estimated 1.5 million earthquakes, resulting in an average of 13,200 deaths. There is yet to be a single death related directly to the Zika virus and many who are infected present no symptoms at all. It should also be noted that Zika, like many tropical illnesses, is sadly a disease of economic misfortune. It is common in impoverished areas where education is a novelty and stagnant water provides the ideal breeding ground for the Aedes mosquito, the exclusive carrier of the disease. The threat to travellers staying in modern cities, luxury resorts and established tourist areas remains very low.
In 2014 and 2015 the Ebola virus spread across west Africa, producing a severe outbreak which was the worst of it’s kind. It affected just three countries primarily; Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with Nigeria, Mali and Senegal seeing less than thirty cases in total between them. With the combined effect of an increased threat of terrorism, the result was a mass exodus in tourism from the entire continent, with devastating consequences. Tourism is key to many regions of Brazil and other countries in Latin America. Revenue from tourism in Brazil reached over $7billion in 2013, a figure which has been steadily increasing year-on-year. Tourism is even more key to countries in the Caribbean, who lacking the economic diversity of larger nations, rely almost solely on tourism to fuel the economy. At least 10% of Barbados’ working population are employed in tourism, and as much as 25% in Jamaica. Therefore I feel it’s important to keep some perspective on the situation, and to continue visiting the countries affected, whilst taking the necessary precautions.
I’m interested to hear from people who have plans to travel into regions affected by the Zika virus. Has the Zika virus put you off travelling to countries where there is an outbreak? Have you even gone as far as cancelling your trip? Are you concerned about the spread of the virus, and if so why is this a personal worry for you?