By Benjamin Flowers
Some airlines have began offering refunds to travelers bound for destinations that have confirmed cases of the Zika virus for the safety of passengers.
British Airways, American Airlines, and United Airlines have all began rolling out options for passengers, particularly pregnant ones, to avoid visiting destinations with confirmed cases of Zika.
American Airlines is offering pregnant passengers a full refund once they provide a doctor’s note showing they are unable to fly to destinations such as: San Salvador (El Salvador), San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa in Honduras, Panama City and Guatemala City.
United Airlines has offered its customers the option to rebook at a later date or receive a full refund, while British Airways said pregnant customers with flights to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, or to Mexico City or Cancun (Mexico), could change their booking free of charge, delay their journey or even choose an alternative destination.
Countries that have had confirmed cases include: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Paraguay, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.
So far there have been no reports of the virus in Belize, however, health officials fear that there may be unreported infections in country.
Prior to the viral outbreak, the Vector Control Unit (VCU) of the Ministry of Health (MOH) had scaled up its interventions to reduce the population of the Aedes egypti mosquito, which carries both Dengue and the Zika virus.
Javier Alpuche, senior public health inspector with MOH, explained that even though the ministry had succeeded in reducing the number of dengue cases by some 700 between 2014-2015, the VCU maintains the level of intervention.
Alpuche explained that apart from clean up campaigns, the VCU has been regularly conducting the Ultra Low Volume (ULV) spraying of pesticides, which is done by the trucks that drive around in the early morning and late evenings; as well as Phemal spraying which is administered inside households with a hand-held pump.
The ministry had taken on temporary staff to assist with the spraying activities, but their tenure ended at the close of 2015. Alpuche said, however, that the VCU has already written a proposal to the ministry to have the temporary staff rejoin, and hope to have them by as early as next week.
The Zika virus has been linked to babies being born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder which causes new born children to have abnormally small brains.
The Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization put out an advisory last week, warning countries in the region to prepare health systems as best they can for the outbreak, by stocking up on necessary medications, vaccinations and outfitting facilities with necessary provisions for a spike in the demand for specialized neurological care.