Everything You Need To Know About Zika Virus and Carnival

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This Friday Rio de Janeiro begins their annual party of all parties, Carnival. However, the ongoing threat of the Zika virus is putting a slight damper on the celebrations. Carried by the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that spreads chikungunya, Zika continues to wreak havoc throughout South America, notably Brazil, leaving many travelers and this year’s international Carnival revelers a little nervous.

The “odds of knowing you contract Zika are surprisingly slim” because 20 percent of the people who contract the virus even show symptoms of the Zika virus—and, at that, it’s 2-12 days after the initial mosquito bite, and they go away within a week. Most people hardly know they contracted the virus.

To clarify this even further, Brazil’s 4,000 cases of microcephaly are around one-tenth of one percent of all the country’s births in 2015.That said, only 3,500 Brazilians have contracted the virus since October 2015—that’s out of a population of over 200 million. Yes, the virus is spreading rapidly, but remember, this virus has been around for some 70 years. There’s been a massive spike this past year, but for most people, if they have the virus, they won’t realize it, and it’ll pass through their body no differently than normal. Those who should be concerned are pregnant women.

Here’s the gist of what you need to know.

How can you even contract Zika?
Zika is contracted via Aedes mosquitoes. On Feb. 2, Texas reported its first case of a sexually transmitted Zika virus.

Where can you contract Zika?
Wherever there are mosquitoes, so anywhere, be it the beach or a 5-star resort. For a more comprehensive list—including the list of countries like the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America, and Africa—just check with the Center for Disease Control.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include: Fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis and sometimes some muscle pain and headache. Of course, a hungover week of dancing Samba and kissing strangers in Rio will leave you with eerily similar symptoms.

Can it kill you?
Probably not. The bigger concern lies in two areas: babies and vaccines. First, the virus’ effect on pregnant women can lead to a condition called microcephaly, a neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of “normal” children.

Second, there’s no vaccination or medication that will prevent Zika, meaning you’ll have to
protect yourself the old fashioned way—by covering exposed skin, avoiding the outdoors and bathing your skin in bug spray.

Should you consider rescheduling your trip?
If you’re pregnant and still going to Carnival, yes, and there are also a lot of things you should consider other than Zika—like why you’re pregnant and going to Carnival.

How easy is it to reschedule?
Not so easy. Some airlines like American and United and cruise lines have eased restrictions
on ticket changes to Zika-affected areas, and Delta has a cutoff of February 29th for fee-free itinerary changes. Concerning your lodging, you’ll need to contact your hotel, hostel or that Airbnb host. Expect some financial costs in every trip alteration.

So what will your travel insurance do?
Not much. Most travel insurance policies won’t cover you if you opt out of the trip. Simple. That’s largely because “fear” of illness is not the same as literal illness. Some pricier plans offer a psuedo “change of mind” policy where you can generally get refunded up to 75 percent of your travel costs, but you’d probably be lucky to get that. Otherwise, if you go on the trip and contract Zika, then your insurance will work as it normally would.

Don’t wanna go to Rio but still want to hit up Carnival…in a non Zika zone?
You can find a celebration pretty much anywhere, from rural Mississippi to any big city.
Those looking to party like they do in Rio will love Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Kölner
Carnival in Cologne, Germany. For something more mild, go to Goa for a Portuguese-inspired celebration with a Hindu twist. And those who like fruit can rejoice at the Binche Carnival in Belgium. There, revelers throw oranges at each other.

Tom is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.

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