Zika virus prompts Calgarians to call health clinics, not cancel trips
Low risk to Canadians, but pregnant women advised to cancel trips or see doctors for advice
The Zika virus, deemed this week by the World Health Organization to be "spreading explosively" hasn't resulted in Calgarians cancelling their trips to South and Central America, say local travel agencies.
Instead, many people are calling local travel clinics for information about precautions they should take against the mosquito-borne illness while abroad.
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The Public Healthy Agency of Canada says the risk to Canadians "low," but it's urging pregnant women, or women planning to get pregnant, not to travel to 22 countries in the Americas where the outbreak poses a risk because of a link to micorocephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
'You have to make an informed decision'
Four cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Canada, one in an Alberta woman who travelled to Southeast Asia in 2013, two more recently in B.C. and one in Quebec.
Denell Falk, president of Civilized Adventures in Inglewood, says with the extensive media coverage of the illness, people are in the know.
"You have to make an informed decision," she said.
"Realistically, there's always something out there; use bug spray. But I wouldn't recommend you go if you're pregnant."
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Several other travel agencies in the city said they haven't had any travellers cancelling their holidays.
Tour company G Adventures says it's had calls from some concerned travellers, but no cancellations.
"We are advising travellers to check with their doctors or a travel medical clinic for affected areas and advice on necessary precautions, and to refer to the government website for any relevant travel advisories," said spokesperson Tim Chan.
Calgarians not cancelling trips
Allison Wallace, a spokesperson for Flight Centre, said the company has been tracking cancellations closely across Canada. As of Friday afternoon, there were none out of Calgary.
However, there were several re-bookings by pregnant women in Toronto who changed their trips from Dominican Republic, one of the affected countries, to Cuba, which is not on the list.
"Most people are calling and asking, 'What is it and what should I do?' said Wallace. "I don't think people understand that it's targeted at pregnant women."
"We've certainly received calls from people travelling to affected areas wanting information on the virus and to find out what their options are," Wallace said. "Should the Canadian Government issue an official travel warning then we would expect to see a number of cancellations."
If it were closer to spring break time, Wallace said, it might be a different story. "If they don't get it under control, it's going to be a hot topic," especially for travellers who head to popular hot spots like Mexico in March and April.
Travel clinics getting calls
Nadia Amin, who works at the Shots To Go Immunization Clinic in downtown Calgary says they are gettting at least five or six calls a day, "especially from pregnant women. Some are cancelling their trips," she said.
The clinic is also advising pregnant women to visit their obstetricians to get further advice. But the general public, she said, is seeking more information about whether they should cancel their trips or not.
Bowmont Travel Clinic in Bowness is also getting about one to three phone calls from travellers. They are offering the same advice, and asking people who plan to carry on with their travel plans to make an appointment to learn about how to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Canadian airlines, including WestJet and Air Canada, announced they are either giving travellers concerned about the Zika outbreak refunds or credits, or not charging for cancellations.
The World Health Organization is convening an emergency committee meeting on Monday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.