Sign in to comment!

Fox News Weather Center

Will the spread of the Zika virus mark the end of care-free vacationing to the Caribbean?

Confirmed cases of the Zika virus have been on the rise since May of 2015, when the Pan American Health Organization first issued an alert confirming the mosquito-borne infection in Brazil.

It has since spread across the Americas, including to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where conditions are prime for breeding of the Aedes aegypti, the type of mosquito that carries and passes on the virus.

But as fear grows, in tandem with the list of potential health complications from the virus, does this mark the end of care-free vacationing to the Caribbean, a region once known for its laid-back and worry-free nature?

As of April 20, 2016, a total of 457 locally-acquired cases of Zika were reported in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands alone.

The virus is a major and immediate threat to the Caribbean tourism industry, which relies on nearly 13 million Americans, the region's primary target, to visit annually, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

The new threat comes after a landmark year in 2015, with a total of $29.2 billion spent by travelers in the region.

Despite travel alerts from the CDC, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the CTO say not to cancel your travel plans, as proactive measures are in place to reduce the risk of transmission to visitors.

According to a joint press release, "The CTO and CHTA will continue to work closely with [Caribbean Public Health Agency] to assess the situation, but we encourage visitors to continue with their travel plans to the Caribbean and follow the advice and precautions issued by the World Health Organization, similar to those which are provided to travelers to most tropical destinations."

According to the release, Caribbean countries and hotels are working to combat mosquito-borne viruses by eradicating breeding grounds, installing screens on windows and placing bed nets in outdoor sleeping areas.

However, experts maintain that select groups of travelers should give a second thought to whether it's the right time to travel to any place that's seen locally-acquired cases.

"I think you have to break it down by categories of traveler," Dan Caplivski, MD, associate professor of Infectious Diseases and director of the Travel Medicine Program, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said.

"So first of all, the highest priority traveler right now are the pregnant women and that's why the CDC put out a special advisory for pregnant women, to avoid travel to countries where Zika is known to be present, until we understand more about this infection and its potential impact on developing babies," Caplivski said.

On April 13, the CDC confirmed that Zika is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.

"This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly," Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC, said.

Playlist used for trending content.

Outside of this group, Caplivski said women who are considering becoming pregnant in the near future may also want to avoid travel.

Zika has a short incubation period, and travelers that become infected while abroad could conceive in a time overlapping with the viral infection.

Because of the threat to these two groups, the CDC advises that pregnant women do not travel to these areas of the Caribbean and that women planning to become pregnant strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites if they travel.

For all other visitors, the region is under a level two alert, indicating that enhanced precautions should be taken to avoid mosquito bites -- but it doesn't advise against travel altogether.

"There's probably been some alarmism in the media because it feels like the levels of concern among the general population who are not pregnant are probably too high...," Caplivski said.

But, those hoping for a vaccine to quell their fears shouldn't hold their breath. If one is eventually developed, it will take "many, many years to get to clinical use," he said.