There has been a lot of coverage in the news lately about the Zika virus. Maybe you’ve heard about this mysterious virus or the potential devastating effects it can have on unborn children. If you are planning a trip to a country that is known to have instances of Zika, it is important to consider your options for travel insurance and Zika virus protection.
While travel insurance is vital no matter the health concerns you may have, outbreaks of diseases previously unfamiliar to the public may cause you to panic about your upcoming trip. Documented cases of the Zika virus in the Western Hemisphere beginning in 2015 have had a significant impact on travel between the U.S., Caribbean, and South America. Some airlines have even been known to offer ticket refunds, citing passenger concerns about Zika.
So what is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is spread through a particular type of mosquito called Aedes that commonly thrives in tropical environments. The virus causes the Zika virus disease. Once the infected mosquito bites, it takes an unknown number of days before symptoms occur. The estimated incubation period is a few days, but this is unconfirmed. Once the symptoms are present, the infected person may have one or more of the following:
- Pain in the muscles and/or joints
- Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)
These symptoms are usually quite mild, only last for 2 to 7 days, and typically do not require any hospitalization. In rare cases, there is a documented link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes nerve damage and muscle weakness. Currently, there is no vaccine and no prescription medications that you can take that would prevent or lessen the impact of the Zika virus disease. Additionally, only one in five people bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito will actually show any signs of symptoms. Death is also very rare.
Unfortunately, this disease is not just spread from mosquito to human. It can also be passed between humans through unprotected sexual intercourse, as the virus can remain in the blood for approximately seven days and in semen for two weeks. Additional problems may occur if a pregnant woman contracts the disease, as it has been known to cause a host of possible complications including miscarriage and stillbirths.
The biggest concern with Zika is the connection between the disease and microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which newborn babies are born with underdeveloped brains. The biggest physical indicator is head size that is below average for a typical newborn. When the head is abnormally small, the brain is unable to develop correctly. This can result in lower cognitive function and prevent normal intellectual and physical development. It can also cause seizures.
Microcephaly can be caused by a multitude of factors, including genetics and substance abuse while pregnant. According to recent research, pregnant women who become infected with Zika may also have children born with microcephaly, but the likelihood of the disease causing the condition are not known. There is no evidence between women who have had Zika in the past and any defects in future pregnancies.
Zika, Traveling, and You
The CDC has issued Zika-related travel health notices in order to warn travelers of the potential risks when visiting certain countries around the world. This includes dozens of countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and the Pacific Islands. To view the current list, click here.
Brazil is of central concern to many doctors and other medical experts, as it is the location of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in August and September. With so many thousands of Americans and other individuals from around the world traveling to Brazil, the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) have recommendations for travelers. Their suggestions should be considers for travelers to all countries with a Zika travel health notice. The recommendations include:
- Avoid all travel to a region that is known to have cases of the Zika virus while pregnant or if you are of childbearing age and may become pregnant.
- Practice abstinence or protected intercourse for eight weeks after returning from a country with known Zika cases.
- Monitor travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department.
- Prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering the skin with long sleeves and pants, and keeping doors and windows closed while indoors.
- Avoid being outside during the Aedes mosquitos’ peak biting time, which is usually in the early morning and early evening.
In addition, consider purchasing health and travel insurance as an added layer of protection. This will provide you with peace of mind while you travel, should you have any health-related difficulties.
Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones
When planning the ins-and-outs of your trip, there are a variety of health and travel insurance policies to consider. Essentially, there are three main types available: travel health insurance, medical evacuation travel insurance, and trip cancellation insurance.
Travel health insurance: If you are feeling unwell while abroad, you may have concerns as to whether or not you’re experiencing Zika symptoms. Your symptoms may be serious enough to warrant a visit to a local doctor or hospital. It is likely that your current health insurance policy does not cover doctor or hospital visits outside of the United States, or that the country you are planning to visit has a nationalized healthcare system that does not cover visits by non-citizens. Travel health insurance is available in two forms: Travel Medical and Major Medical. Both have coverage for medical expenses, but Major Medical is for travellers on extended trips. Travel health insurance also provides assistance finding a local doctor or hospital.
Medical evacuation travel insurance: You may be considering a trip to a destination that is lacking in proper medical facilities or has low healthcare standards. If so, then medical evacuation travel insurance might be right for you. Sometimes, this is part of a travel health insurance policy, but it can also be purchased separately. This insurance will cover your transportation to a hospital or doctor if you experience a health emergency. Though it is not likely, you may contract Zika and experience symptoms that are worse that average and need to visit a doctor. If you are in a remote location, this may require emergency transportation services that can be quite costly unless you have the right insurance coverage.
Trip cancellation insurance: While travel health insurance helps to cover any health costs while you are traveling, trip cancellation insurance is there to protect you before your trip even begins. If you need to cancel your trip due to an illness or family death, trip cancellation insurance will help to recover your expenses. If you or a loved one experiences an illness shortly before you begin traveling, make sure that the sick individual is assessed by a doctor for your claim to be validated. Depending upon the insurance carrier’s requirements, the illness often needs to occur within 72 hours of your planned departure.
Additional features of many health and travel insurance plans include information about countries that are known to have Zika cases, ways to prevent a Zika infection, medical monitoring of individuals with already diagnosed illnesses prior to the start of their trip, and refilling prescriptions.
Find Out More
If you suspect that you may have contracted Zika, seek immediate medical attention. A laboratory test on your blood, urine, saliva, or semen will need to be performed in order to confirm that you have the disease.
Speak to your independent insurance agent about your upcoming trip abroad to see if a travel insurance package is right for you. There are many options to choose from, and you can often create a policy that will best suit your travel needs. So, set up a meeting or call your agent today.
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