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Don't expect travel bans to countries hit by the Zika virus

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Summary

Government warning pregnant women from travelling following Zika virus scare

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The federal government is warning pregnant women not to travel to countries south of here hit by the Zika virus, but is stopping short of banning anyone from traveling there. Experts say travel bans often hurt more than they help.

A travel ban would damage the economies of South and Central American countries according to Dr. David Patrick with the BC Centres for Disease Control. “The travel ban to Toronto for SARS cost us billions and it really did nothing to help the effort to contain the virus. More recently, the travel bans to West Africa devastated the economies of three countries and left them on their knees.”

Dr. Patrick adds there’s little a ban on travel for Canadians could do to stop the Zika virus from spreading. The virus is spread only by a type of mosquito not seen in Canada. That means people who do travel to South America and contract the disease are not a danger to anyone once they arrive back in Canada.

There’s suspicion the virus causes more pregnant women to give birth to babies with microcephaly. That’s a condition which sees a baby born with an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain. The nature of the link isn’t understood.

Dr. Patrick thinks the current travel advisory for pregnant women is enough. “The CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada have suggested strongly that pregnant women delay travel voluntarily and believe me, most people are going to stand up and listen to that.”

Many airlines are giving refunds to pregnant women who have already booked travel to affected countries.

Dr. Patrick says people at highest risk of contracting Zika virus are from poorer neighbourhoods in affected countries, next to standing water with no window screens or air conditioning. He says it’s important for anyone traveling to the region to protect themselves against mosquitoes, even in the day time by using repellents with DEET and wearing light coloured, loose clothing.