Zika Virus: Associated Risks

The Zika Virus, once thought to have been eradicated, has become an epidemic of global concern. The virus has been sweeping over Central and South Americas. The Zika virus has become a growing concern to not only people, but to the tourism industry affecting businesses such as airlines, cruise lines, resorts, and also to the agricultural industry.  Although the virus has been deemed to have no severe health risks to those who are not pregnant or wish to get pregnant, the world faces a great deal of other risks as a direct result of the virus.

In May 2015 the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert and confirmed the first case of the Zika virus in Brazil. Since then approximately 1.5 million people have been affected in Brazil alone and 30 other areas have had outbreaks of the Zika virus. On January 22, 2016 the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in response to the outbreak. World Health declared a public health emergency of international concern on February 1st, and on February 8, 2016 the CDC elevated its EOC to the highest level. Although no local mosquito-borne Zika virus cases have been found in Canada or the U.S, there have been travel-associated cases.

Many airlines have stated that they have not seen a decline due to recent awareness of Zika virus. Airlines have begun to work with pregnant passengers who had planned on traveling to infected countries. Most airlines such as American Airlines, Jet Blue, and Virgin America are willing to negotiate refunds or change of dates with pregnant passengers. Cruise Lines such as Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Lines have also followed suit in negotiations. Unfortunately, there are many of those who will lose thousands of dollars in airlines tickets and resort or hotel reservations that will not be refunded. Travel insurance won’t cover a cancellation due to the Zika virus. It will only cover the medical costs associated if the virus is contracted during the trip. Only people who have CFAR (cancel for any reason) built into their policy will be able to retrieve funds spent on vacationing.

Stocks in airlines and hotels have seen a small decrease since the vast outbreak of the Zika virus. With Delta Airlines seeing a 6% drop, American Airlines and Hilton Worldwide Hotels dipping about 3%, and Marriott International falling 2%. Could these airlines begin to see a continuous decline in stocks or ticket purchases? According to World Bank that fear of the virus can cost these countries up to 63.9 billion in tourism revenues. What toll will decline tourism revenues take on these countries? Are resorts and hotels in the affected regions prepared handle this kind of loss?

With the approach of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil there is an increasing concern of the Zika virus spreading over to the U.S and Canada. Over 200,000 American and Canadian citizens to attend the Olympics this summer. Mr. Kraemer, a scholar at Oxford University who analyzes the spread of viruses, believes that as a result of the thousands of people traveling to Brazil this summer, more than 60% of the American population could be affected by the Zika virus in August and 23 million people could essentially be affected all year after citizens return from Brazil. Areas at risk all year would be places such as Florida and Texas where temperatures are high and mosquitoes are around much longer. There has already been proof on how quickly the Zika virus can spread. Having an influx of tourism due to the Summer Olympics could skyrocket the spread of the virus. U.S, Australian, and New Zealand Olympic Committees have stated that anyone concerned with the Zika virus shouldn’t travel to Brazil and the committee will support the staff and athletes decisions. Reports have stated that there has been no evidence showing a decline in staff, athletes, and spectators.

To combat the spread of the virus through local mosquitoes many regions are taking precaution to control the mosquito population. Jane Ellison, public health minister of the UK, announced that UK airlines are spraying aircrafts returning from infected countries with insecticides. In fact, some passengers are being directly sprayed with aerosol pesticides and many of them without their knowledge. The risk here is the exposure to these insecticides and pesticides in enclosed spaces. In 1994 US Congressional subcommittee acknowledge that spraying of occupied airlines cabins with aerosol insecticides is a hazardous practice. An Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) report mentions statements by both flight attendant and passengers complaining of symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, seizures and, in extreme cases, memory loss, a reduction on cognitive skills, and immune systems from spraying. There has also been one report of a passenger dying due to complications with emphysema after being sprayed with aerosol insecticides.

Many tourist business such as resorts in the affected countries have begun using insecticides to help control the spread of the Zika virus through mosquito bite transmissions. This means those traveling are being exposed to an increased rate of insecticides and pesticides. Farmers in the affected countries have also taken to using spray treatments to help control the mosquito population surrounding their crops. In the past countries like Canada and the U.S. have used insecticides such as Malathion or Permethrin. The issue is that many of the affected countries have very different regulations surrounding the use of hazardous insecticides and pesticides. This means that these countries can still use toxic chemicals such as Aldrin, DDT, hexachlorobenzen or other persistent organic pollutants and pesticides (POPs). These chemicals can accumulate in in the fatty tissue living animals and humans and can result in acute and chronic toxic effects. This can begin to have an effect on the produce imported from these countries. Which means that, if those who purchase produce from the infected countries are doing their due diligence, we may see a decline of imported produce on the shelves of our grocery stores. This is where having business continuity plans (BCPs) come into play and can be a valuable asset to these companies.

It’s now possible that both humans and animals will see an increased exposure to insecticides and pesticides in hopes to control the spread of the virus through mosquito transmission. Even if the chemicals being used are Malathion and Permethrin there can be negative effects. These chemicals can be safe in small amounts of exposure, but when people have been exposed to enough Malathion they can begin to feel nauseated, have muscle tremors, cramps, weakness, shortness of breath, slowed heart rate, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If Malathion is left sitting for long periods of time it becomes more toxic, especially in hot places.

With the Zika virus spreading exponentially, individuals and businesses can should closely monitor the risk of traveling to affected regions. With proper assessment of this emerging risk, organizations may be able to mitigate any disruptions or loss of assets as a direct result of the Zika virus.


-Melissa G


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