By Emma Jolliff | 3news.co.nz

Health officials say they can’t issue more than a precautionary travel warning over the Zika virus because the link between it and brain deformities in babies hasn’t yet been proven.

That means insurers are unlikely to cover those who voluntarily cancel their travel plans.

In the past five months in Brazil, 4000 babies have been born with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, and linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

But ‘linked to’ isn’t the same as ’caused by’.

“The World Health Organisation have not come out with evidence to say it’s a causal link. Therefore, you must cancel your holiday plans, all we can do is be ultra-cautious,” Dr Shirley Crawshaw, Deputy Director of Public Health says.

The latest advice is if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant it’s probably best to avoid travelling to countries where there’s active transmission of the Zika virus.

The Centre for Disease Control has listed 23 countries where Zika is a risk — mostly in Central and South America, but also Samoa.
“A recent epidemic in Samoa has been downplayed because not many people developed the disease,” Marc Shaw, GP with Worldwide Traveller’s Health said.

The Samoan Director-General of Health says there were just three cases of Zika in Samoa last year and the travel warnings were issued without consultation.

Dr Shaw says 80 percent of people who get this infection get a mild infection which could be just a transient cold.

House of Travel has had just two clients cancel bookings to Samoa. It says while claims are assessed on a case-by-case basis, generally “travel insurance policies won’t offer travel refunds if it is the customer’s choice not to travel and there is no travel advisory recommending not to travel, as is the case with Samoa”.

Where it’s not possible to avoid travel, all precautions should be taken to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Dr Shaw says New Zealanders need to be aware of, but not alarmed about, Zika and should consult with their doctor if they have any concerns about travelling.

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