In recent weeks, the Zika virus has gained considerable attention from media, causing great concern for travelers and anyone staying in or planning to visit the affected regions. The mosquito-borne virus has reportedly caused birth defects in infected pregnant women, in particular, microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped head and brain sizes and certain physical and learning disabilities. In addition to the possibility of causing microcephaly in newborns, the Zika virus may cause mild symptoms that could last up to a week such as fever, joint pain, rashes, and reddening of the eyes in those who are infected.
Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) have said that the Zika virus is “spreading explosively,” and as a result, many travelers are taking extra precautions when traveling or rethinking their travel plans altogether. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the location of this weekend’s Carnival celebrations happening February 5-9 and this summer’s upcoming Olympic Games, could take a major hit in tourism due to the Zika virus, as Brazil is the frontrunner in the number of Zika virus cases that have occurred.
Some airlines and cruise lines are responding to the epidemic by offering full or partial refunds to certain travelers visiting the affected regions. Airlines include United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin America, and Delta, and cruise lines include Princess Cruises Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. Generally, refunds or credit are only being offered to pregnant or possibly pregnant travelers who are visiting the affected regions as stated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Travel Insurance for the Zika Virus
Travelers whose airlines, cruise lines, or hotel accommodations are not offering refunds or credit for trip cancellations may still be able to stay protected with travel insurance during the Zika virus wave. Some travel insurance companies are treating illnesses caused by the Zika virus as any other illness contracted while traveling, in that policyholders could still be covered for emergency medical care, emergency medical evacuation, and trip interruption benefits.
In other cases, however, policies may exclude coverage if a travel advisory warning is issued by the Department of State or other government organization and the traveler visits the affected region within a certain time frame of the travel advisory. To be sure, travelers should contact their insurance company to verify whether or not their plan covers illnesses related to the Zika virus.
If you are planning to cancel your trip altogether, your trip cancellation policy may not consider the Zika virus a covered reason. Travelers who purchased a “cancel for any reason” policy before travel advisories were released may be able cancel their travel plans and still receive reimbursement, but insurance companies will likely not refund travelers with “cancel for any reason” plans that were purchased after the outbreak. Again, check with your travel insurance company to see what the specific rules and restrictions of your plan include regarding the Zika virus.
Following the outbreak of the Zika virus, travel insurance sales have skyrocketed, due to many travelers taking precautions when traveling to affected regions. Even though you may not be able to cancel your trip for full reimbursement if you purchased your policy after the outbreak, travelers are advised to carry travel insurance with them when visiting the the affected areas, as it is uncertain how you might react to a Zika virus infection.
Where is the Zika Virus?
As of February 4, 2016, the regions with active transmission of the Zika virus include:
- Central America: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama
- South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela
- The Caribbean: Barbados, Puerto Rico, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Saint Martin, and U.S. Virgin Islands
- Oceania & Pacific Islands: American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga
- Africa: Cape Verde
If you are looking for a travel insurance policy for visiting a region experiencing active transmission of the Zika virus, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for policy recommendations from our licensed insurance agents.