What is Zika and how to be prepared?

WHO experts believe there is a casual relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly (abnormal smallness of the head in infants at birth leading to incomplete brain development, it is however not proven scientifically.

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Last Updated - May 5, 2023
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The Zika virus was recently declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) three days back.   

Zika, which reared its head in May 2015 quickly spread to parts of the Americas, achieving the notoriety of the Ebola epidemic that once haunted travelers worldwide and Africans in particular. 

 What is Zika Virus?

Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit three other vector-borne (illness caused by infectious microbe transmitted through blood-sucking insects) diseases – yellow fever, chikungunya, and dengue, is the prime carrier of this virus.

Where is the Zika virus prevalent?

The virus is known to circulate in South America mainly and has not been detected in India yet but the widespread presence of the Aedes mosquito makes India vulnerable.  

How dangerous is Zika?

WHO has declared Zika a global public health -emergency. WHO experts believe there is a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly (abnormal smallness of the head in infants at birth leading to incomplete brain development), although it’s not scientifically proven.  A lack of diagnostic kits and vaccines has been identified as a big hindrance and a coordinated international effort is required to combat the virus.

What are the symptoms?

Those infected by the Zika virus report mild fever, joint pain, skin rash, and conjunctivitis. Other common symptoms are muscle pain and headache. It takes about a week to show symptoms after first contracting the virus. The disease however is not fatal and those infected rarely need to be hospitalized. But just recently Colombia has reported three Zika-related deaths. Although the deaths weren’t caused directly by the Zika virus the victims had contracted a related disease called ‘Guillan-Barre’ syndrome and all three tested positive for the Zika virus.
The virus remains in the blood of the person infected for about a week. The disease is particularly harmful to pregnant women, as there has been a bump in cases of microcephaly in newborns in the areas hit by the Zika virus. 

Is there a cure and diagnosis?

There is no vaccination or medicines to cure or prevent the disease. However, it can be diagnosed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and blood tests. Acetaminophen medicine reduces fever and pain. Health experts advise against taking any aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


Reduce the mosquito breeding sources such as covering water containers, flower pots, etc. Reduce contact with mosquitoes through nets, repellants, wearing light-colored clothes, and use of insecticides.
Dehydration should be prevented by drinking ample fluids. Take medicine such as to relieve fever and pain.

Travel Advice & Protection

Zika virus is affecting people in 20 countries including Central and South America, according to US Centers for Disease Control. Indian Medical Association has issued an advisory, urging pregnant women not to travel to 14 countries in Central and South America including: 

  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Hounras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela
  • Puerto Rico

Although, Zika has more significant consequences for pregnant women anyone traveling to these countries should be careful and take the necessary steps to be prepared. But how can you do it? 

Travel Insurance is a good way to safeguard yourself against Zika if traveling to these countries. A travel insurance plan typically covers the cost of medication, hospitalization, and like, if the traveler falls sick in the destination country.

Although travel insurance gives you cover for a host of issues such as baggage loss, dental treatment, baggage loss, trip cancellation, highjack allowance, etc.

Some medical benefits included in travel insurance include: 

Medical Treatment:

Costs incurred in the treatment of a medical condition, in-patient or out-patient, and the costs of transportation to a medical facility are covered

Medical Evacuation:

In case of the insured person needs to be moved from one location to another to provide some specific kind of treatment, the costs involved would be covered 

Hospital Daily Allowance:

A cash allowance is paid for each day of hospitalization. This is usually for the miscellaneous expenses which are incurred.

Balance Treatment back in India:

In case the insured person comes back to India and needs treatment for the same medical condition, the costs are borne by the policy for a specified period of say 30 days. 

A 28-year-old male traveling to Brazil for one week can get travel insurance of sum assured within a range of $50,000 – $500,000 by paying a premium between Rs 650-2009. While certain countries or geographies such as the European Union make it mandatory to have travel insurance, it is better to have one especially when the sum assured is large and the premium low. 

The idea behind travel insurance is to be prepared for any eventuality even sickness or accident in a foreign location. This specifically becomes more relevant for those traveling to countries affected by endemic such as Zika. Hospitalization is costly, and India’s foreign exchange rules allow only limited foreign currency conversion. To avoid a situation where hospitalization cannot happen due to lack of money travel insurance is a must.

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Deepak Yohannan is the Founder & CEO of MyInsuranceClub. He enjoys writing on Personal Finance and focusses on explaining the basic concepts of insurance in simple language.