The Zika virus has been top of mind for U.S. travelers looking to visit South America and the Caribbean since the outbreak in January, and the heat has risen on the issue as the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil shines a spotlight on the outbreak. Now, mosquitos carrying the virus have spread it to our own shores: At least 14 people have contracted the illness from diseased mosquitos in northern Miami, and today the Center for Disease Control issued a travel warning for the area. Because the disease is thought to cause a birth defect called microcephaly, which affects brain development, they're urging pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant to avoid this section of the city.
These are reportedly the first homegrown cases in the continental U.S., meaning the illness was spread inside the country by mosquitos carrying the disease. Previously, cases in the United States (of which there are more than 1,600) have only been reported in people who traveled to a Zika-affected area or contracted the disease through sex with someone who has the illness. Though the likelihood of the disease spreading rampantly in the U.S. is not very likely — proper drainage systems as well as air conditioning help prevent the spread — this is still a major concern.
To date, Zika has already spread to over 40 countries. Affected areas include prominent cruise destinations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. (Be sure to check the CDC’s full list before you cruise.) The presence of Zika-carrying mosquitos in Miami is especially alarming to cruisers because it is a major embarkation port for Caribbean cruises, with almost 5 million passengers traveling through the Port of Miami each year.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Cover up with long pants and sleeves that cover your arms, and use an EPA-registered insect repellent — even if you’re pregnant. And while you shouldn’t necessarily cancel your cruise because of Zika, you should consult your doctor if you are pregnant. Major cruise lines — including Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean — are allowing pregnant women and their travel companions to postpone or alter their trip, or to cancel it entirely for a credit towards a future cruise.