Zika virus: UK holidaymakers urged to seek GP certification before travelling to South America

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As has been well documented on the news of late, the (until recently) little known Zika virus is causing major health concerns amongst pregnant women throughout South America. And with Brazil gearing up to host this year’s Summer Olympics there’s even greater implications for all parties to consider.

Travel and insurance experts are therefore strongly urging anyone planning on heading off to any South American country in the coming months to be fully aware of the situations and moreover the potential implications in terms of where UK citizens might stand with regards to travel insurance policies.

First things first and leading authorities on travel insurance suggest that anyone finalising plans to jet off to that part of the world seek reassurance form their GP beforehand, to establish if it’s safe for them to make the journey as the situation pans out.

For those still not in the know, the Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection which began in Africa before spreading to Brazil in 2015.

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Now firmly entrenched there, it’s already leaving it viral footprint further afield in neighbouring South American countries, with experts predicting that it’s not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’ the first cases of Zika appears in North America.

Whilst symptoms include headaches, conjunctivitis and mild fevers, the greatest threat is the unseen one the virus poses to unborn babies, as when infected women give birth to affected new-borns they are likely to present underdeveloped brains. What’s more, there is currently no cure or indeed vaccine available to counter this.

Beware of travel insurance policy cancellation smallprint before prematurely cancelling planned trips to South America

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The Zika virus is spread amongst the population through bites from mosquitos which carry the disease and along with South America, the Caribbean is also known as a hot spot. Advice afforded people travelling to these areas so far has amounted to preventative measures which need to be taken to avoid contact with the mosquitos, including using insect repellent, mosquito nets, shutting windows, clearing up standing water and increased vigilance in general.

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Currently there remains no official travel warnings either from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office nor the World Health Organisation with regards to visiting infected countries, aside from the flagging up of the obvious risk to pregnant women. Having said that, all travellers should seek relevant advice prior to departing to countries where cases have been reported, and essentially get reassurance from their GP that it’s safe for them to go there, or alternatively request a certificate to establish that it’s not; which of course would be imperative if you needed to lend weight to the reasons behind a cancelled trip when approaching a travel insurance provider for recompense at a later date.

According to various reputable sources, the travel insurance industry has confirmed that it would acknowledge a GP’s certificate which underlines the fact that a pregnant policyholder has decided not to travel due to the risks posed by the Zika virus, in the event of them making a cancellation before the scheduled trip. And as mentioned earlier, with the Olympic Games being staged in Brazil this coming summer the odds of a significant percentage of pre-booked trips being cancelled is looking ever the more likely as the virus takes hold.

General advice being offered by UK-based travel insurers for those people who’ve bought the trip as a package (complete with tickets, travel and accommodation included), is that they may well have success in claiming back on the trip if they decide not to go, yet should check their tour operators’ all-important terms and conditions, as well as those of their travel insurance policy before jumping to any conclusions.

The news isn’t quite as encouraging though for those who might have booked their tickets, travel and accommodation separately; and which effectively could prove a far more challenging scenario to individually contest with providers. Again, cross-examining particular ‘T’s and ‘C’s’ are vital. Ultimately the present situation might be subject to comprehensive change should the FCO or WHO place restrictions on travel to countries affected by the Zika virus.