The Zika Virus and Caribbean Sailing

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that the Zika Virus is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and as some parts of the Caribbean have cases of local transmission what do you need to know before travelling there?

Firstly, it is your own choice. The WHO’s press release as of the 1st of February 2016 says “The [Emergency] Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus.”

The virus currently cannot be transmitted human to human, and is spread only by infected Aegis Mosquitos. These mosquitos have a maximum flight of 400m, so sailing offshore around infected islands should not pose a health risk.

The Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment, the main symptoms of the virus are aching joints, fever with a rash and red eyes. These should pass with 5 to 7 days. The incubation period of the virus is up to 7 days, so you could find out that you are infected after you have returned home, however in total the virus will only live in your body for 21 days at the most.

There is a body of research which has linked the Zika virus to Microcephaly in foetuses and local clusters of other neurological conditions. Therefore if  woman is pregnant she should consider postponing her holiday, or if trying to become pregnant she should take every precaution not to get bitten by a mosquito, and should contact her doctor before travelling. We don’t normally take heavily pregnant ladies out sailing with us, but certainly if a wife or partner is coming out to join you, or you suspect that you may be pregnant however early the stage, this needs some thought.

Some good advice for preventing mosquito bites comes from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention:

–  Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

–  Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
–  Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label.
Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children aged >2 months.
–  Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself.

For more information please go to the WHO website or the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The above information was all collated from public notices from the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, as researched on the 1st February 2016. If you have any worries about your personal health, please contact your GP.

Caribbean Countries which have declared local transmissions, as of 2nd February 2016 are:

Barbados

Curaçao

The Dominican Republic

Guadeloupe

Haiti

Martinique

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory

Saint Martin

U.S. Virgin Islands