We first wrote about the Zika virus when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about 20+ countries in the equatorial belt following an outbreak. It has been more than ten days since then and the travel news and blogs are still ringing about new developments in the Zika situation and ways in which it is affecting travel plans of millions of people, if not more.
Today, we will be talking about all the new stuff that has happened since the last time we wrote about this issue and we might also dig deeper in what this virus is like and what the medical experts are saying.
The main development since the last time we wrote about Zika is that the CDC has added 4 new countries and areas to the list of those affected by the virus. The new countries are Costa Rica, American Samoa, Curacao and Nicaragua. According to the CDC, traveling to these parts of the world puts travelers at risk of being infected with the virus. Of course, pregnant women and women who are planning on getting pregnant are especially discouraged to travel to these areas.
Another huge development has been going on in Brazil where the outbreak is worse than anyone expected. This is according to the health minister of Brazil, Marcelo Castro. Due to the fact that about eighty percent of infected people show absolutely no symptoms, it is difficult to calculate the numbers properly and to do anything to contain the outbreak.
During this week, local governments in Brazil are also being required to report Zika cases as they are confirmed by proper testing. Castro has also added that the Brazilian authorities are hoping that a vaccine will be developed soon. Brazilian government has also commented that there is no way the 2016 Olympics in Rio will be cancelled because of the virus.
According to experts, it is going to be some time before any semblance of a safe and affordable vaccine is developed, for a number of reasons. For one, very little research has been done in the Zika virus so far, meaning that the theory is still very basic and there aren’t that many experts on the virus.
We don’t have to go too far back in the past to be reminded of a similar case – that of the Ebola virus and the race to develop a vaccine. The daunting thing is that Ebola had actually been researched to a certain extent, while the same cannot be said for the Zika virus.
That being said, there are a number of teams already working on the vaccine, from National Institutes of health from the U.S., Canada and Brazil to privately owned pharmaceutical companies such as Merck & Co., Takeda Pharmaceuticals and GlaaxoSmithKline.
Unfortunately, even if one of the teams comes up with a vaccine that they believe is safe and effective, it will take months, if not years to properly test it. This is even more complicated in this case because of the fact that pregnant women, who are most in need of this vaccine, are usually not part of clinical trials for obvious reasons.
As all of this is going on, the effects of the Zika virus on travel are already becoming dramatic. For instance, Reuters and Ipsos did a poll asking Americans about whether they would travel to Latin America and the Caribbean while the outbreak is in effect and 41 percent said they would not. The availability of the information is only going to make this number grow and while cruise ship operators and airlines have not yet released the numbers, we can only imagine what this has been doing to them.
Believe it or not, but the outbreak has already had a negative effect on the stock prices of certain companies, such as Delta Air Lines, Hilton Worldwide, Royal Caribbean, as well as many other transportation, accommodation and cruise companies. In essence, everyone is feeling the hit.
The only winners of the Zika outbreak (however callous this may sound) may turn out to be tourist destinations which have not reported cases of Zika infections such as the Mediterranean, for example.