There is much media attention regarding Zika Virus since cases of the virus first appeared in Brazil in 2015. It is important to be aware of how real the threat of Zika is in parts of the Americas where it has been reported. According to offical reports and thanks to awareness campaigns and assistance by the local government that threat is very low in Costa Rica.
Zika Virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that transmits Dengue and Malaria. There is currently no vaccine or preventative medicine against the Zika Virus, as there is no vaccine or preventative medicine against Dengue (anti-Malarial medicine is available). The Aedes mosquito does not live at elevations above 6,500 feet so travelers to high elevations in Costa Rica need not worry about the risk of contracting the Zika Virus. For travelers who will be in areas below 6,500 feet it is recommended to take precautions against being bit by mosquitoes.
The easiest ways to prevent mosquito bites, and therefore protect against Zika, are by wearing long pants and sleeves in areas with lots of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes breed in standing water so as long as your accommodations are dry, you won’t find many mosquitoes. Keeping fans on and using mosquito nets while sleeping is another easy way to prevent mosquito bites. Travelers can also use mosquito and insect repellent to prevent bites. Citronella candles and mosquito coils can be purchased at most local grocery stores throughout the country and will also reduce the risk of mosquito bites and Zika Virus. Thieves essential oil blend works as an effective insect repellent, it smells good, and is non-toxic.
The reason why Zika has received so much media attention recently is that prior to the confirmed cases of Zika in Brazil in 2015, Zika Virus had not been seen in the Americas. Zika Virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947. Between the 1960’s and 1980’s Zika spread throughout parts of Africa and Asia but did not reach Costa Rica or any other Latin American countries until very recently. In Brazil, scientific hypothesis were made between Zika Virus and microcephaly and Guillian-Barre syndrome.
Most cases of Zika are asymptomatic or have no symptoms at all. When Zika Virus symptoms do appear they may include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headache. These symptoms can last for 2 to 7 days and are very similar to the symptoms caused by Dengue.
While Costa Rica has confirmed just over 100 cases of Zika Virus since the virus first appeared in the country in January of 2016. Health officials have carried out 352,835 home inspections in the past 22 weeks, eliminating mosquito breeding grounds and the Health Ministry is supplying mosquito netting, insect repellent, and screen doors to homes with pregnant women.
While Zika Virus does exist in Costa Rica, the Health Ministry is taking steps to control the rate of infection and eliminate further spread of the virus. Travelers to Costa Rica should simply take precautions against mosquito bites, to avoid Zika as well as Dengue and Malaria if traveling to areas where these diseases are prevalent. Traveling to Costa Rica is still safe and by taking simple precautions and preventative measures, travelers can feel secure about staying healthy while on vacation.