Threat of Zika Virus Forces Many to Shift Summer Travel Plans

The Zika virus outbreak has travelers scrambling to change summer vacations.

May 24, 2016, 2:25 PM

— -- A popular parenting Facebook page is populated these days primarily with posts about the Zika virus and travel safety.

One woman by the name of Dana writes that she originally planned a family trip to Aruba in August, but is now looking for alternate destinations to "avoid any Zika areas." She wondered if South Carolina would be a good August destination.

Dana is not alone. A Travelzoo survey conducted in February 2016 -- prime time for summer vacation planning -- found that for 30 percent of respondents said Zika impacted their decision to travel to warm weather destinations where the disease could be found. Of those, 30 percent said they changed their vacation plans to other destinations that have not been impacted.

With many popular vacation destinations -- including Mexico and some Caribbean islands -- being on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Travel Health Notices list, some travelers are reconsidering their summer vacation plans. These destinations primarily fall into the "yellow / alert level 2" category, which advises enhanced precautions. A "red / warning level 3" advises to avoid all non-essential travel.

But while the Zika virus -- or at least, a fear of the Zika virus, is a problem for tourism for some destinations, other places will benefit from those fears. Travelzoo's search data found Fort Lauderdale and Arizona searches are up 40 percent or more and Miami has seen a 35 percent increase, according to Travelzoo.

Also poised to benefit is Canada, where interest from U.S. travelers is up double digits. Deals, Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie said, are ripe in popular places like Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. A favorable exchange rate for Americans makes Canada a particularly attractive destination this summer.

Some airlines offered reimbursements to fliers who purchased tickets to Zika-affected areas. American Airlines' policy covers pregnant women and companions who are traveling to a destination in Latin America or the Caribbean affected by the Zika virus, as long as the tickets were purchased before March 31, 2016. A doctor's note confirming your pregnancy when you request a refund is required. JetBlue's policy for customers traveling to/from destinations reported by the CDC to be affected by the Zika virus may qualify for a refund or the option to make changes to their current travel plans to alternate destinations or travel dates. Original travel must have been booked on or before May 1, 2016.

United and Delta have similar policies with a purchase date of Feb. 29 and March 1, respectively.

Dr. Mia Taormina, an osteopathic infectious disease and travel medicine specialist, and the Chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases at DuPage Medical Group, told ABC News that pregnant women and their partners should consider destinations that are not prone to Zika this year. In her travel medicine practice, she partners with patients to help them evaluate their personal risk. She advised traveling to mountain areas where the Aedes mosquito can't thrive (the CDC recommends an altitude of at least 6,500 feet) and scheduling deep-water activities during peak bite times (daytime hours), as the mosquito is a poor flier, according to Taormina.

Travel insurance may be helpful.

"Customers who become pregnant after they purchase their policy may be covered for trip cancellation and interruption if they are traveling to an area impacted by Zika," Dan Durazo, director of communications for Allianz Travel Insurance, told ABC News. The company also suggested customers contact their travel provider prior to canceling their travel arrangements.

"Some airlines and other travel suppliers are allowing customers to cancel their trip and receive a refund or change their dates of travel without change fees when traveling to countries affected by Zika," Durazo said. "If the customer’s travel supplier allows them to change the dates of their trip, they may also change the dates on their travel insurance policy."

In all cases, the most comprehensive -- and expensive -- travel insurance is a policy that allows for cancellations anytime for any reason.

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