The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. on Thursday urged travelers to “make informed decisions” about summer plans, attempting to dispel perceptions about the extent of the spread of the Zika virus on the island.
To that effect, Tourism Co. Executive Director Ingrid I. Rivera-Rocafort underscored “the importance of making travel choices based on accurate information.”
“While we celebrate the ease and accessibility of global travel, it requires some common sense precaution, no matter where in the world one goes. Education is the key to relishing new adventures without the risk of fear, real and perceived. Accurate information is fears’ best antidote.” Rivera said.
“On behalf of the people of Puerto Rico, we pledge to continue to inform and protect as we welcome the world to the tropical paradise we call home,” she said.
Rivera-Rocafort went on to list a number of perceptions versus realities of the presence of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico.
Perception #1 – Puerto Rico is the center of the Zika virus in the Americas
Reality – The current Zika virus outbreak did not begin in Puerto Rico. In May 2015, The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert that Zika virus transmission was active in Brazil. The CDC in Puerto Rico did not detect the first locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus until December 2015. Soon after, the CDC began reporting that several other countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean were also experiencing active local Zika virus transmission.
Perception #2 – Everyone who goes to Puerto Rico will get infected with Zika
Reality – Travelers can take simple, common-sense steps to help avoid getting the Zika virus. The easiest way to avoid contracting the virus is to take steps to prevent mosquito bites and wear proper clothing while enjoying the outdoors. The CDC suggests that all travelers stay up-to-date on the latest Zika news before their trip, and take the following preventive actions during their trip:
- Purchase and use an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)/para-menthane-diol (PMD), or IR3535.
- Follow instructions on repellent label and be sure to apply at proper intervals, as directed.
- When wearing sunscreen, be sure to apply sunscreen first, then repellent once sunscreen has dried.
- Cover exposed skin with long sleeves and long pants, when possible, especially when traveling through rainforests and around standing water.
- Keep all balcony doors and windows closed at night.
Perception #3 – The CDC has banned all travel to areas with Zika cases
Reality – The CDC has three travel level warnings, Watch Level 1, Alert Level 2, and Warning Level 3. The CDC recently issued an Alert Level 2 notice to Puerto Rico (and other destinations), suggesting that travelers should “practice enhanced precautions” when traveling to Puerto Rico. In other words, the CDC is encouraging travelers to review its travel guidelines before traveling and follow its preventive precautions when on the island.
Perception #4 – The Zika virus can have serious implications for anyone who contracts it
Reality – When it comes to the Zika virus, the general population has little to fear. According to the CDC, 80 percent of people infected with the virus never even show symptoms, and when they do, those symptoms are typically mild, usually lasting only two to seven days. These symptoms include, fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes)–symptoms that can be mitigated with rest, fluids, and everyday medication.
Currently, the CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and those trying to conceive. Their guidelines indicate that women in any trimester should avoid travel to destinations where active local Zika virus transmission is occurring. If pregnant women are required to travel to one of these areas, or live in one of them, the CDC suggests that they speak with their healthcare provider and adhere strictly to its steps to prevent mosquito bites.
Perception #5 – People all over Puerto Rico are infected with Zika
Reality – At this time, less than one half of one percent of the 3.5 million residents in Puerto Rico have contracted the Zika virus. More importantly, the majority of Zika cases are concentrated in areas away from typical tourist destinations. The Puerto Rican government has been working hand-in-hand with the CDC and the private sector to help combat the spread of Zika on the island. This collaboration has been paramount in keeping the number of Zika cases relatively low.