The Zika Virus

The recent announcement from Public Health England that pregnant women should avoid travel to Florida due to the risk of contracting the Zika virus has thrust the issue back into the limelight.

Here we outline what the virus is, what best do to if you want to cancel your holiday, and what steps you can take to avoid contracting the virus.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness which can be passed from a pregnant woman to her foetus – infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects including microcephaly, which leaves babies with abnormally small heads. There is currently no vaccine or medicine for the virus.

As a holidaymaker, you could be affected by Zika if you travel to an area in which cases of the virus have been reported while pregnant or while trying to become pregnant. Based on the available evidence, US public health body the Center for Disease Control and Prevention believes that Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies after the virus has cleared from her blood.

For more information about the virus and the issues surrounding it, check the NHS website.

Which countries are affected by the Zika virus?

Holiday destinations affected include the Caribbean, Florida in the US, Mexico and Brazil, which is expecting higher visitor numbers than usual this year due to hosting the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. However, the situation regarding the virus is very fluid – for an up-to-date list of the areas affected, along with further travel advice for those countries, check the FCO website.

Can I cancel my holiday?

At the moment, only pregnant women and their partners (and those planning pregnancy) are being advised to postpone non-essential travel – there is currently no such advice in place for other travellers.

Bob Atkinson, TravelSupermarket’s resident travel expert, said: “Tour operators, airlines and travel agents are under no legal obligation at all to offer refunds or allow holidaymakers to cancel without penalty.

“However, customers should find out the options regarding their booking – whether they can amend it to another date or destination and what the cancellation policy is for the company they have made the booking through.

“Customers should also check their travel insurance policy to see if there is anything in there regarding coverage of cancellation costs.”

Current advice from travel insurance providers is to contact your tour operator, airline or hotel first to see if you are able to change your travel plans – currently there is no specific advice not to travel at all (current advice regarding postponing non-essential travel only applies to pregnant women and their partners, or those who plan to become pregnant) so cancellation cover is generally only being provided for the reasons stated in policy wordings.

Here we have rounded up some of the advice from major operators – if your operator is not listed here then you should contact them directly for more information.

British Airways

“If you are pregnant at the time of travelling to an area of the world where there is active Zika virus transmission, please contact us or your travel agent to arrange alternative travel plans and discuss the options available to you.”


“Customers due to travel to Aruba, Barbados, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Florida, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Thailand, St Lucia, St Maarten and St Vincent and the Grenadines who would like to amend to an alternative holiday offered by TUI and First Choice, and have a doctor’s note in line with the advice issued by NaTHNaC, can do so without incurring an amendment fee.

“Once we have been notified that a customer has a doctor’s note, they have a month to book an alternative holiday to any TUI or First Choice destination currently on sale. If the alternative holiday is cheaper than the original holiday, we will refund the difference – if it is more expensive the difference must be covered by the customer.

“If you would like to make an amendment and have booked through a travel agent, they will be happy to assist. Alternatively, if you booked online, contact our customer services team on 0800 009 3834 & 0203 636 1995.”

What steps can I take to avoid contracting the Zika virus?

Advice from the NHS and the CDC about how to avoid contracting the Zika virus includes:

If you are yet to travel, talk to your doctor before you leave and heed warnings against inessential travel to affected countries and territories.

Find out more about Zika virus travel advice on the FCO website


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