In past years, a new disease has made headlines across the world: the Zika Virus.
The potential effects of the virus have made many travellers anxious about going to certain destinations. You may also be wondering what this new virus means for travel insurance.
Keep on reading to find out what you need to know about travel insurance and how it is affected by Zika.
What is the Zika Virus?
Warnings of Zika Virus made headlines in late January 2016 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika infection a public Health Emergency of international concern^.
The virus, like malaria, is transferred through mosquito bites. Symptoms are mild and most often last less than a week, though sometimes may not appear at all.
Common symptoms include:
- Joint pain or muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
Zika Virus has been reported in Brazil, Indonesia, Vanuatu, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the US Virgin Islands and more.
There is currently no vaccination available for Zika Virus.
Why is everyone concerned about Zika Virus?
If symptoms are so mild, why is everyone so worried about Zika?
The main cause of concern is that Zika Virus has been linked to serious birth defects and pregnancy problems, in particular a condition called microcephaly.
Microcephaly is a birth defect that affects the growth of a baby’s head and brain. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller heads than expected because the brain stopped growing during pregnancy or after birth.
Microcephaly can lead to other serious health complications such as hearing and vision loss, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and seizures.
Does the Zika Virus mean I shouldn’t travel if I’m pregnant?
The Zika Virus has been linked to microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with smaller heads due to abnormal brain development.
As a result, the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has warned pregnant travellers to be aware of areas where Zika Virus is endemic such as South America and Southeast Asia.
Travellers should pay close attention to travel advisory information posted on the Smartraveller website, and keep up to date on reports of the Zika Virus transmission.
Pregnant women in any trimester and women seeking to become pregnant, should consider postponing travel to locations where the Zika Virus is established. The Department of Health has a list of countries affected by Zika.
If you intend to travel to an area affected by the Zika Virus and you are pregnant, you should thoroughly research steps you can take to prevent mosquito bites.
It is also important to be aware of what cover is provided by your travel insurance policy.
Does travel insurance cover the Zika Virus?
The Zika Virus is considered a pandemic as it can be found across entire continents.
Pandemics are generally not covered by travel insurance, particularly after travel warnings have been released. This means that you would not have cover for medical expenses related to Zika Virus at a destination where it is known to occur.
It’s also unlikely you’d be covered for the cancellation expenses of your holiday if you decide travelling to somewhere affected by Zika is too risky.
However, that doesn’t mean you should forgo travel insurance. The majority of your benefits will not be affected by the Zika Virus.
Your travel insurance policy can still include cover for:
- Medical expenses that are unrelated to the Zika Virus.
- Cancellation expenses if you or a travelling companion become sick or injured before you start your holiday.
- Loss, theft or damage to luggage including mobile phones, computers, cameras, and personal effects.
- Travel delay expenses.
- Rental vehicle insurance excess.
These benefits can provide cover in a range of situations, so it is well worth purchasing travel insurance before you travel, regardless of whether the Zika Virus is present.
Remember to read the Product Disclosure Statement before you purchase travel insurance, so you understand what is and isn’t covered by your policy.
Will I be covered for cancelling my holiday if I become pregnant before the trip?
If you are travelling to a destination where Zika Virus is present, but decide to cancel your holiday after becoming pregnant due to the risk of transmission, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be covered for any cancellation costs.
However, you can in many cases transfer your policy to provide cover for a different destination. Some insurers, including Fast Cover, also allow you to postpone your travel insurance for a period of time so that you can change your holiday dates.
If you’re still in the ‘cooling off’ period, you may also be able to cancel your policy and receive a full refund.
Tips to prevent mosquito bites when you travel
The best way to protect yourself from Zika Virus is to avoid mosquito bites.
There’s a few simple steps to preventing mosquito bites:
- Cover up with long-sleeved clothing such as loose shirts and pants wherever possible.
- Use a DEET-based repellent to protect yourself, and take it with your whenever you go out for a day exploring.
- Sleep under mosquito nets if you are in an area with mosquitoes.
- Avoid lingering around bodies of still water such as rice paddies, mangroves and creeks. Bird baths, storm drains and puddles of water can also be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
Make informed travel plans to avoid Zika Virus regions
When you’re planning a holiday, it’s important to consider the risks you might face at your destination, including the prevalence of transmissible diseases.
The Zika Virus is one risk factor to carefully consider if you are pregnant or intending to become pregnant.
Remember that travel insurance can provide cover for a range of overseas medical emergencies, but incidents related to the Zika Virus are generally not covered.
With this in mind, it may be safer to postpone travelling to destinations where the Zika Virus is reported, and choose an alternative destination instead.