How Much Do I Have to Worry About Zika on a Cruise?

If you’re planning on taking a cruise to the Caribbean, then you’ve no doubt heard the warnings about the Zika virus. The illness has been in the headlines for months now and shows no signs of going away anytime soon.

Of course, that has many people worried about Zika and its effects as it pertains to their cruise. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the virus is active throughout the Caribbean — stretching from Mexico to Barbados. All of the following areas have active cases of Zika and are also popular stops with cruises:

  • Aruba
  • Belize
  • Bonaire
  • Cuba
  • Curacao
  • Dominican Republic
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Maarten
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

As of now, cruise ships continue to sail to ports in these countries, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. So if your cruise is going to an area with active Zika virus cases, how much do you really need to worry? And what can you do to prevent catching it? We’ve taken a look at the current situation…

Understanding Zika

The CDC has published a myriad of information on the Zika virus. Most important to know is that the virus is spread through a specific species of mosquito found in tropical climates. When a mosquito carrying Zika bites a person, there is a risk of that person being infected.

For most people, it appears that Zika is actually not a big deal. According to the CDC:

“The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.”

The major issue is that the virus can be spread from a mother to her fetus. Infected infants can then be born with serious birth defects, including microcephaly, where a baby is born with a smaller head, inhibiting brain growth and development.

For this reason, you’ve likely heard the warnings about avoiding travel to areas with Zika outbreaks if you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant. In addition, the virus can spread through sexual contact, so an infected father can spread the disease to a mother, who then transmits to her child.

At this time, it’s not known how likely you are to get the virus if you are bitten by an infected mosquito, nor is it known how likely an infected baby is to have birth defects.

Zika and Cruising

If you are taking a cruise to an infected area, you run the risk of getting Zika. That doesn’t mean you will catch the virus, or that you even expose yourself to a high risk (as mentioned, it’s not known how likely you are to get the virus if bitten).

Where you will be most at risk is while on shore. When on the ship, you are likely more protected from becoming infected. Mosquitoes breed in standing, stagnant water. They also need the air relatively calm in order to fly effectively. When a ship is underway in the middle of the ocean, neither of these requirements are met. That’s why you rarely see mosquitoes on a cruise ship.

There are a couple of instances where you could find them on the ship. First, if the ship is at port, then they could fly from shore to the ship. Second, they could be carried aboard unknowingly by passengers. Both cases are unlikely, but could happen. So while we think it rare to be bitten by a mosquito on a cruise ship, it can (and does) happen.

If you are traveling to a Zika-infected area, the best way to prevent a bite is with a few common sense steps. Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants while on your trip to keep bare skin to a minimum. While that doesn’t sound like fun on a cruise, there are many options such as light linen items that offer protection while still being cool to wear.

You can also help prevent bites by sticking to the indoor areas of the cruise ship and using insect repellant with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or
para-menthan-diol.

Let us be clear. If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends not traveling to areas with Zika. Period.

If you do travel, using some common sense solutions and staying aboard the ship can reduce your risk of coming in contact with infected mosquitoes and catching the virus on your cruise.

For more details, visit the CDC’s website.