The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a public health emergency, causing worldwide concern regarding the connection between the virus and a neurological birth disorder. The virus is most commonly spread when a mosquito bites someone with the infection and then transmits the virus when it bites another person. In recent news, the first case of Zika in the United States has been linked to sexual contact with someone who had recently traveled to Venezuela.
Zika is not a new illness. It is important to note that Zika infections have been occurring for more than two years, but the disease has just recently made the headlines. The recent attention from around the world is creating heightened levels of concern and, in some cases, changes in planned travel. With the seriousness of the warnings from the World Health Organization, many institutions are questioning whether they should cancel study abroad trips to areas where Zika transmission is occurring.
Trip cancellation is not a true remedy for full avoidance, since the disease has been transmitted in the United States. Instead, your institution should provide current information on Zika as it becomes available and allow participants to decide for themselves if they still want to travel to their destination based on the known situation. Here are several recommended precautions that institutions can take to protect their students and faculty:
- Educate students, parents and faculty about Zika and how it is transmitted.
- Encourage travelers to wear mosquito repellent, long-sleeved shirts and long pants at all times during their trip.
- Encourage travelers to sleep under a mosquito bed net.
- Give students and faculty the option not to participate in the study abroad program if they feel uncomfortable traveling to these regions.