The bite of an infected aedes aegypti mosquito is what causes the Zika virus and it lives in lowland tropical and subtropical areas worldwide, where there is high temperature and humidity. The risk of getting it is higher in more populated areas than it is in areas with few people because the disease is transmitted exclusively from one human to another. And the mosquitoes are not found at altitudes above 2200 meters (7217 feet), so if you are visiting cities like Quito, Cusco, La Paz, Santiago and other places in the Andes, it is not a problem. Visiting Patagonia and arid desert areas in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile is also safe.
and won't even know that they have been infected.
A lot of the alarm concerns travel to Brazil where more research has been done about the problem. Most of the problems seem to be in the cities in the northeast part of the country (a large percentage of the cases reported have been in the state of Pernambuco, where Recife is.).
"Fortunately, there is very little risk to travelers on our Amazon cruises of exposure to any tropical diseases, including the newly arrived zika virus. The main reason is that the kind of mosquito that transmits the zika virus, the Aedes species, is not native to the Rio Negro where we explore! Our cruises are wilderness cruises and they take place where the Aedes species is practically unknown. And because our trips explore the remote Rio Negro where the water is very acidic, there are very few mosquitoes at all. Those few mosquitoes that are encountered are in the forest and they are easily avoided with insect repellent and proper clothing. Because our cruises are true wilderness cruises, most of our time is spent in very remote, uninhabited places ... far away from other people. In 27 years of operation none of our travelers have ever been infected with a tropical disease.
So these two aspects of our cruises make it very unlikely that travelers will be exposed to mosquito transmitted disease of any kind. However, even though there is very little risk, with an abundance of caution, we have taken an additional step to help ensure the health of our travelers. As of this week we have modified our cruise itineraries to avoid spending time in areas where the Aedes mosquito can occur. While Aedes is rare on the Rio Negro, it is more common in settlements along the Amazon River itself, so we have modified our cruise itineraries so that travelers on the M/Y Tucano will not be have excursions in that region. We will still go to the "Meeting of the Waters", the joining of the two greatest rivers in the world, but we will no longer linger in excursions in the area near the shore. Instead we will spend the time saved upstream in the wildness rainforest of the Rio Negro.”
- Costa Rica - According to the latest press release from our Ministry of Health, the Zika virus is not circulating in Costa Rica and that information is also confirmed by the Pan American Health Organization with the latest list of countries with Zika cases reported. There is only one case reported yesterday, however, the case is catalogued as “imported”, because this person was bitten by the mosquito in Colombia and this means the virus is not circulating the country.
- Argentina - there was 1 case reported in the Tucuman area - a temperate area. For people considering traveling to Patagonia in the winter (Calafate, El Chalten, Ushuaia, etc.), it is too cold for the mosquitoes then, so there is no problem, even though those areas are not at high altitude
- Ecuador – As of 16 January, a total number of 6 cases had been reported – 2 of the cases were locally-acquired while the remaining 4 cases were imported (3 from Colombia and 1 from Venezuela).
- Bolivia – the major tourist areas of La Paz, Uyuni and Lake Titicaca are ok. 5 cases have been confirmed in other areas, 3 of them arrived from Brazil
- Chile – no problem. Why? Firstly, the Andes mountains in the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West act as natural boundaries and defense barriers, preventing virus-carrying mosquitoes from flying in from further inland or the ocean. Secondly, the species of mosquito most likely to carry Zika was wiped out there in the 1960s. According to the World Health Organization, Chile is one of only two countries in the Americas where Zika is highly unlikely to spread, and only one case of Zika has been found in Chile in March 2016, but was spread through sexual transmission and not mosquito bites. This one case of Zika was a rare anomaly and no other instances of Zika in Chile have been found since.
- Colombia – 20,000 cases. Zika has been reported throughout the country in the areas with warmer climates though most predominantly in: northern Santander, Barranquilla, northern Cundinamarca, Huila and Tolima. The Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus tend to bite during the day (including dawn and dusk) unlike those that carry Malaria that bite at night.
- Peru – on January 29, a Venezuelan man in Lima, who recently traveled through Colombia, where he had contracted the mosquito-borne virus Zika, was the country's first confirmed case of the disease.
"We do not have any worry about Zika virus in the Tahuayo River basin. The only species of mosquito that carries Zika is Aedes aegypti, which is also the sole species of mosquito that can carry dengue or yellow fever. This mosquito breeds in water that is alkaline, which in the Iquitos area is found in pools of water south and west of the city (much limestone and clay in the soil, deposited from water originating in the Andes). The mosquito only survives for 2-3 weeks and does not stray more than 100 meters from the place where it hatched.
In the Tahuayo River basin we do not have this mosquito species, because our water ecology is highly acidic, coming not from the Andes (we are on the other side of the Amazon River) but from swamps in the interior of the ACRCTT conservation zone, where phenolic chemicals leach from our jungle plants into the standing water. If you put your hand in the water in our rivers and lakes you can see the red color tint of the water. This indicates high acidity, water in which Aedes aegypti cannot reproduce. For this reason we have also never had outbreaks of yellow fever or dengue in the Tahuayo River basin. The one species in Peru that carries malarial parasites, Anopheles darlingi, also does not breed in the highly acidic ecosystems of the Tahuayo. We have never had any of these diseases in the Tahuayo River basin."
We suggest that if you go to places where there are mosquitoes, you should wear repellent and long sleeve shirts and pants. Do the same when you get home (if there are mosquitoes where you live), because the virus can last about a week and if you have it and a mosquito bites you when you get home, it could spread the infection to others.
So we think that people should still consider travel to South America.
The people at Travelex Insurance point out:
"Currently, Travelex Insurance Services' protection plans are not impacted by these travel alerts. Counties in these regions continue to be eligible destinations. However, should a traveler become ill with the Zika virus, coverage may be available for emergency medical assistance* and expenses, Emergency Medical Evacuation, Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption.
Some travelers may prefer to cancel their trip out of concern for the Zika virus. Plans with Cancel for Any Reason Coverage allow travelers to decide for themselves whether to travel or cancel their trip. Please be aware that the trip must be canceled no less than 2 days prior to the scheduled trip departure date. Please refer to your plan documents regarding eligibility and for full details.
Many airlines are reviewing their policies on refunds and changes to bookings to the countries impacted by the travel alert. Concerned travelers may want to contact their airline to understand their policies on the issue.