The current state is that Zika is a mild disease that affects a very small percentage of travelers (most concerning for pregnant women), has been declining greatly in Costa Rica, and the disease is relatively easy to avoid if properly informed.
A family vacation, honeymoon or adventure trip to Costa Rica is supposed to be fun and worry-free. These types of vacations are recommended for our health, longevity, and well-being. We are encouraged to get out and explore the world and experience different places and culture in life.
Travel is considered by many as the best way to temporarily let go of everyday responsibilities, and enjoy the moment; it is an ultimate reward to a job well done. Travel is becoming so important in our lives that oftentimes employees will prefer travel benefits or perks in their job to higher pay or salary.
Traveling is easier these days due to increased technology. This makes preparing for travel and exploring options for where to travel easier as well. If you have recently considered a Costa Rica vacation you have most likely seen the travel advisories and warnings regarding the Zika Virus and its presence in Central & South America.
Zika is the newest tropical mosquito-borne virus in the Americas to take the internet by storm. The disease is spread by day flying mosquitoes (including Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus) in Costa Rica South America, Central America, and the United States.
What to Know (Facts) About Zika
We’ve known about Zika for 70 years. Your guess is as good as ours as to why it’s getting so much attention now (source). Some suspect that it’s getting extra attention due to increased use of pesticides, and there was a study done in Argentina suggesting this theory (source).
USA Today published an article stating that scientists debunked the theory (source) in 2016. But, who is right? What doesn’t add up is that it’s all of the sudden getting attention in recent years, and why all this pesticide spraying is happening in Florida and other areas of the south. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that the former Florida governor’s wife had a multi-million dollar stake in a mosquito control company and was not commenting on this discovery (source). Is this a conspiracy? That’s for you to decide. We have our doubts.
Zika is a very mild virus (source). The effects of Zika are so mild in fact that 80% of people who contract Zika never know that they have the virus.
The symptoms of Zika are so mild that they only include a slight fever, headache and joint pain (source). They are similar in nature to those of dengue fever. These symptoms normally last for two days to six days and are often so mild that they are unrecognized by the carrier of the disease.
The most common way in which Zika is spread is through mosquitoes (source). Often times people who don’t know that they are infected can transmit the virus to mosquitoes who then pass it to other people without the carrier experiencing any symptoms or side effects as described above.
Zika can be spread through sexual contact with an infected partner (source). So can lots of other things, in any part of the world, if you’re not careful! This makes Zika unique to other mosquito-borne and mosquito-passed illnesses, however. Taking proper precautions and preventative measures as outlined below as well as on the CDC website can drastically reduce your chances of acquiring this relatively mild and hard to diagnose disease. Here are some tips:
- Wear bug spray, especially at lower elevation
- Wear longer garments when possible, especially when at a lower elevation
- Use contraceptives when having intercourse
- Realize that mosquitos can bite during both day and night
While Zika has relatively mild symptoms, the biggest danger according to the CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control) is to women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. The risk of acquiring Zika is extremely low for healthy infants, children, adults or seniors. However, the Zika virus poses a serious health problem for fetuses, especially in the first trimester. For this reason alone before traveling to affected areas, it is best to consult your family’s physician and other doctors if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant
In the end, many health and travel experts say not all travelers should alter their plans.
“People need to put it in perspective,” says Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “There are many other diseases that are much more virulent including influenza, measles and chicken pox.” The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that travelers may also be at risk of being infected with dengue, malaria and chikungunya, other mosquito-borne viruses. These risks have always existed, even to your friends and family who have come back from Costa Rica from past vacations.
Where to Go & When to Visit
Being knowledgeable about this disease and the areas where you are visiting by taking the proper precautionary measures to prepare yourself in the areas where the Zika virus exists can greatly reduce your chances of acquiring the virus. This information is readily available, and with help from your health and travel experts, preparing yourselves to take your Costa Rica vacation is simple and will give you peace of mind as you travel through the rainforests, jungle, and beaches of this Central American country.
The best times of the year to visit Costa Rica in order to minimize your exposure to mosquitoes that transmit Zika and other viruses are as follows:
- Pacific Side: Early to mid-January to mid to late-April
- Caribbean Side: Late-September through early-November (the driest time)
What the CDC Says about Zika in Costa Rica?
It is has been determined that the mosquito which transmits the Zika virus does not usually live at elevations above 6,500 ft or 2,000 meters. Costa Rica has various zones above this elevation that are attractive to visitors looking to experience a variety of the 12 different micro-climatic zones that exist in Costa Rica (source).
The CDC still displays on their website that Zika is a risk in Costa Rica, an alert that they have for every country in Latin America (except Chile), Central Africa and South East Asia.
How Many Cases of Zika in Costa Rica?
The impact of Zika in Costa Rica had decreased considerably since 2016 when the first cases appeared in the country. That year Costa Rica reported close to 2,000 cases of Zika, but 2017 was the worst year with over 2,000 cases reported. Since then, Costa Rican authorities have done an extraordinary work educating the population and taking public health even more seriously than they usually do.
In 2018, the cases of Zika in Costa Rica were less than 400, most of them in certain counties of the Limón province and the northern part of Costa Rica (source).
Those places in Costa Rica are not typically part of any of our travelers’ itineraries, so this greatly reduces our travelers’ chances of coming into contact with mosquitos carrying the Zika virus. This bodes well for travelers to Costa Rica in 2019 and beyond, especially when booking a trip with Costa Rica Escapes.
Depending on where you’re traveling from the risk of contracting the Zika virus may be lower in Costa Rica than it is where you live; therefore, you might already be taking preventative measures to avoid the disease. If not here are some easy rules to follow to minimize your risk.
- Choose to stay at a hotel or lodging with air conditioning and fans. Fans are an effective way to decrease mosquitoes, but climate control is ideal. For this reason, it is best to collaborate with a Costa Rica travel experts (like us at Costa Rica Escapes) ensuring lodging like this is selected for your travels.
- Make sure your hotel accommodations have screens on all windows and even doors. This way you can maintain an open-air feeling while you enjoy the rainforest and beach, but you eliminate the risk of mosquitoes entering where you sleep.
- Always maintain your windows and doors, even screen ones, shut at prime mosquito time, which is dusk, right before sunset.
- Bring from home, and always use, a proven insect repellent like DEET and reapply as needed.
- Apply sunscreen first and repellent second. Most natural repellents (citronella oil, cedar oil, geranium oil, peppermint, and peppermint oil) have never been proven effective.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats in areas where mosquitoes are present.
- While not required, mosquito netting is also an effective way to take an extra measure.
- Avoid sex with a partner who has traveled to or resides in an area with a current Zika outbreak, such as Jaco.
Remember, the experts know best. You and your family are unique. Not only do we recommend following the same preventative measures as the CDC, WHO and other health organizations, but it is always a good idea to discuss these issues with your family’s physician.
Note: This article was originally published on 9/22/2016, and updated on 1/22/2019.
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.