Zika 4Q – We are booked on a Silverseas Cruise calling at a number of ports in the Caribbean next month. My wife has had some past medical issues including two bouts with cancer. I called the line to inquire about changes in itinerary and getting our money back and they referred me to a web site run by CLIA. What is CLIA? They are mostly suggesting the press is over-blowing this and we should contact the CDC. We need a breadth of fresh air and some honest answers.

A – CLIA won’t do you much good. It stands for Cruise line International Association and it is the mouthpiece for the cruise industry and the major marketing arm for the industry. They are also responsible for training travel agents to sell their member products.

The CDC is going to be tough to reach and it is true they tend to overreact for both political and legal reasons.Zika 2

This virus is scary but the mosquito-borne illness is a danger specifically to pregnant women and women intending to conceive. That is where it gets a little hazy – what exactly is a woman “intending to conceive”? It would appear that phrase means that this is an activity that would take place while vacationing abroad.

There are some virologists who have strong warnings for tourists headed for the Caribbean. The NY Times quotes Dr. Peter Hotez the Dean of the National School of Tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine as saying “….if my daughter was planning get pregnant, I’d advise her not to go to the Caribbean.” He also said  that “this is going to decimate Caribbean tourism but we can’t wait to act until nine months from now when congenital defects turn up in the labor and delivery suites.”

This scare started when it was discovered that Brazil was experiencing a shocking rise in births of infants with microcephaly, a disease that is characterized by children with underdeveloped heads and brain, There have been more than 40 deaths attributed to the disease in Brazil alone with over 3,500 reported cases.

Now it has spread and is reported to have cropped up in 14 countries in North and South America including tourist destinations like Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Last week, the CDC upgraded its warning to a Level 2 Travel Advisory which means that they are advising pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant to avoid or consider avoiding travel in affected areas.

The vast majority, almost every single cruise line guest, who goes to the affected countries, will be advised by their cruise consultant (hopefully) to wear protective clothing and to take the best possible level of mosquito repellent. Cruise guests need to realize that mosquitos are a particular issue when a ship is in port and guests are using their balconies as mosquitos are attracted to the smell of food.

So what to do? Read the Australian travel alerts as well as the British Health Services reports. They tend to be more honest and less alarmist than the CDC. Do not take medical advice from us, or anyone you might encounter who has a vested interest in your continuing with your travel plans. Don’t even bother reading the Cruise Line PR pieces on this subject. Start by following the Zika Virus reporting in the New York Times. They seem to be leading on this story. Expect normal cancellation policies and insurance coverage restrictions to be in place. Discuss cancellation options with your consultant.

This information is accurate as of January 20th, 2016. Obviously, we will be learning a great deal more about this virus. This is not a new disease. It was originally isolated in the Zika Forest of Uganda in a rhesus monkey. It later appeared in humans in Nigeria before spreading to other countries. This is not the sort of pandemic we’ve been warned about. In general Zika is considered a milder form of Dengue Fever, a more serious mosquito-borne virus that is prevalent in rural areas within the Caribbean islands.

The bottom line is read the NY Times on this subject and contact your personal physician with any questions related to your possible cancellation of this trip.

Cruise lines and tourism officials may dismiss the dangers, but we have a hard time dismissing the words of the dean of one of America’s most respected tropical medicine medical institutions. Err on the side of caution and feel sorry for all the party cruise-goers who will visit some of these affected islands with no clue regarding the risks.