As WHO Issues New Zika Guidelines, What’s Next for Travel?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new recommendation indicating that people living in areas affected by the Zika virus should consider delaying pregnancy to avoid birth defects, the New York Times reports, and new deliberations ahead could have an impact on travel. 

The new WHO guidelines acknowledge that, because no Zika vaccine is available and because efforts to eradicate the mosquitos that carry the virus have failed to slow the spread of the infection, delaying pregnancy may be the best way for women to avoid having children with microcephaly and brain damage, the Times said. 

While the latest guidelines do not directly affect travelers, a WHO panel is set to meet Tuesday on whether or not to postpone or move the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games, STAT reports. Public pressure to postpone or move the games increased in early May when a commentary by University of Ottawa health law professor, Amir Attaran, argued in favor of postponing or moving the games as a precautionary measure. 

“Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago. Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession,” Attaran said in the essay.

At the same time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that there is no public health reason to postpone or cancel the games, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Similarly, a WHO statement released late last month said that canceling the event would “not significantly alter the international spread of the Zika virus.” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that only those who are pregnant or planning to start families in the near future should consider not attending. 

“Anytime you travel there’s a risk,” Frieden told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You make a decision every time you travel, is it worth the risk?”

International Olympics Committee (IOC) spokesperson Mark Adams told STAT that there are no plans to move or postpone the games. “We are confident the games will take place and will be very successful,” Adams told STAT. Moving the games would be nearly impossible because of the Olympics’ massive infrastructure requirements, former IOC officials told STAT. 

Even as the Zika virus continues to grab headlines, its impact on travel plans is not immediately clear. In a Travel Leaders Group survey conducted in April, 96.1 percent of respondents indicated that the Zika virus had not impacted their travel plans, although 87.1 percent had heard of the virus. Also in that survey, 23.2 percent of respondents said they were planning to travel to a country affected by Zika this year, with 30.9 percent opposed. 29.3 percent had no intention of going to a Zika-affected country in the first place, while 16.6 percent were undecided. 

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