The Zika virus has become a huge ongoing concern for travelers –pregnant women in particular. The virus, transmitted from Aedes mosquito bites, has only mild symptoms if any at all for most that are infected. However, there is mounting evidence that the Zika virus is linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, causing severe developmental issues and sometimes death. Because of this risk to newborns, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that pregnant women avoid travel to areas where the Zika virus is actively spreading and on March 8, The World Health Organization (WHO) joined them on that recommendation.
No travel bans have been put in place at this time, in fact, the President is currently visiting Cuba which was recently added to the CDC’s list of affected countries. So should you postpone your trip to the Caribbean next week? What concerns should you have for your travelers? Here are three things your organization should do in the wake of these concerns:
Address health concerns such as Zika in your travel policy. Health emergencies are not always top of mind when looking at your travel policy or risk mitigation strategies. The Zika virus situation is changing rapidly – CDC guidelines change sometimes daily in relation to the virus – however, it can be approached similar to other risks such as terrorist threats. Just like those dynamic risks, the best practice is to make sure that you inform your travelers of risk, make them aware of what precautions to take and delay travel as necessary. The best way to ensure that your people are properly informed, and our consistent recommendation, is to partner with risk mitigation professionals such as iJET, ISOS, and Europ Assist. They will be able to guide you and your travelers to the right information and best practices to ensure their ongoing health and safety through any threat – health or otherwise – that may impact your road warriors.
Check with your TMC about waivers for travelers concerned about Zika. All three of the USA’s biggest airlines are allowing some travelers to postpone or even cancel their trips if they are scheduled to fly to areas affected by the virus. United and Delta are offering waivers to anyone ticketed to fly to the affected areas, while American Airlines will allow pregnant women to cancel or postpone their trip if they have a note from their doctor. There are restrictions to these waivers, so make sure you check with your Travel Management Company for all of the details.
Make travelers aware of Zika virus prevention. There is no vaccine that currently exists to prevent against Zika virus. We currently recommend that pregnant women who are at the highest risk take the CDC’s advice and avoid travel to the affected areas. However, if you do have travelers who will be going to these areas, they can take the following steps from the CDC to prevent mosquito bites and avoid contracting the virus:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items. Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.
These emergency situations – health emergencies or otherwise – remind us of how important it is to ensure that your organization is protecting its travelers. The safety and health of your travelers should be of enormous importance, and addressing that can be a huge challenge.
We are here to help – if you’re interested in learning more about developing a travel policy for your organization, or need to update your current policy, please download our Travel and Expense Policy Workbook for additional information.