April 20, 2017
Vamonos and local health officials continue to monitor the Zika virus on the island. At the end of 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement confirming that Zika is no longer a global emergency. Our top priority in leading tours is the safety and well-being of our travelers. We recommend that all potential travelers, parents, groups, and institutions review the information in this letter and make an educated decision regarding their travel plans.
Zika in the US and Puerto Rico
To date, the Zika virus has spread throughout much of the Americas. The CDC estimates that this mosquito species has been active in 27 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. According to the CDC, no organization can predict where, or if, Zika will continue to spread in the U.S. However, it is believed that Zika numbers have dropped considerably over last winter and spring.
The CDC still states that outbreaks in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico are expected to be small and local. “Better housing construction, regular use of air conditioning, use of window screens and door screens and state and local mosquito control efforts helped to eliminate mosquito-borne infections..,” said Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, in a recent statement.
According to the CDC, 4 out of 5 people do not present any symptoms when infected. 1 in 5 people infected with Zika may get mildly sick with flu-like symptoms. It is recommended that pregnant women consult their doctor before traveling to areas infected with Zika or that they consider postponing travel.
The CDC maintains its Level 2 alert for Puerto Rico. Level 2 alerts travelers to “practice enhanced precautions” such as protecting themselves from mosquito bites while traveling. Authorities state that only pregnant women should reconsider traveling to areas with Zika.
- 3.5 million people– Puerto Rico’s population – The majority of Zika cases are among the elderly and in southeastern Puerto Rico. We do not visit this area as we concentrate in the north and southwest regions.
- 34,607 – number of Zika cases in Puerto Rico as per the CDC website – this represents a minimal percentage of the island’s population.
- 6,132 – number of Zika cases in the continental U.S. as per the CDC website
Puerto Rico Now, Zika, and Locals
As of today, people on the island continue to go about their day as usual. The tourism industry is very active. No one seems alarmed about Zika; we don’t see locals or even tourists wearing long-sleeves or long pants. In Puerto Rico, politics and sports still reign and Zika updates are hard to find. Ms. Cupeles, editor-in-chief of Islands of Puerto Rico, states: “We live in Puerto Rico, and we have a family with two children. Despite all the sensationalized news you may have read circling around online, life goes on as normal for Puerto Ricans. Our government and health organizations are doing a great job with prevention and treatment. We go out and enjoy our beaches, the mountains, our beautiful trails as normal. Living in a tropical environment we know to wear sunblock and bug spray regularly. We have yet to meet one person with Zika. The best way to prevent Zika is by simply wearing bug spray with a high amount of Deet. We simply spray it on our clothes, our hats and on our skin if exposed. Our beaches are just as beautiful and residents enjoy them every day.” Her opinion is shared by all of our local guides and staff.
Last fall, our Governor issued a public health emergency (PHE) in an effort to access additional resources and funds needed for necessary relief activities due to natural or man-made disasters. However, according to Tyler Sharp, lead epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zika operation in Puerto Rico, “… if previous outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya are any guide, the high levels of Zika transmission here should start to fall by December.”
The CDC and Puerto Rico have an integrated vector control program that includes weekly house inspections, weekly clean-up campaigns, and surveillance to track the mosquito population and the use of chemical and biological larvicides and adulticides to kill young and adult mosquitos. According to the CDC Station in the Island: “Puerto Rico has the strongest surveillance of the region.” The island follows strict U.S. health standards in terms of medical care, CDC protocol, and fumigation methods. Some 100 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff continue to work in Puerto Rico, as part of 750 CDC workers assigned to work on the Zika virus. The CDC continues to support labs in Puerto Rico and other places at risk around the country to provide testing, including the use of cutting-edge genomic methods to improve mosquito control.
It is important to note that, to our knowledge, there have been no known reported cases of Zika affecting any meeting, student tour, or convention attendee who visited Puerto Rico.
Vámonos 2017 Tour Season, Puerto Rico, and Zika
Thousands of our student and adult travelers from all over the nation continue to enjoy our island. In spite of this Zika outbreak, we have had more travelers to Puerto Rico in 2016 than ever since we began running student tours in 1996. None of our travelers, staff, or local partners have contracted Zika or complained of any Zika related symptom. This is due in part to our serious commitment to safety and a set of precautionary steps we developed in January of this year.
Vámonos’ Safety and Mosquito Virus Precautionary Steps:
- Insect Repellents: All of our coach buses and tour directors carry at least two different types of insect repellent for our travelers to use. CDC recommends using EPA-registered repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE, also called para-menthane-diol [PMD]), IR3535, or 2-undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone). Always use as directed.
- Reminders: Immediately after stepping outside of the bus, we encourage our travelers to apply insect repellent and re-apply as needed daily. We also visit well ventilated locations while inside.
- Clothing: We suggest travelers wear long pants and light long-sleeve t-shirts as often as possible.
- Other key options are:
- Wear insect repellent clothing (shop online, many options and varieties)
- Treat clothes with Permethrin clothing treatment
- Two Full-Time Staff Members: Our main Tour Director is assisted 24/7 by an Assistant who follows the coach bus in an emergency vehicle. This person provides additional supervision, guiding, mosquito control equipment, and a vehicle in case of emergencies.
- Our hotels have increased their preventative measures to keep their facilities as mosquito-free as possible. They have joined forces with regional and county organizations to increase fumigation and add “bug zappers” in key areas of the hotel perimeter. Some have also increased lighting in darker areas as mosquitos tend to propagate in dark humid areas. Our staff also reminds travelers to avoid standing or sitting near or around the lobby and encourages staying in air conditioned rooms with closed doors.
- Hand Sanitizers: At the front of each coach bus there is a large dispenser with hand sanitizer. All travelers are reminded to use it as they exit and enter the bus.
- Medical Care: We have nearby U.S. standard medical facilities and hospitals along with a private vehicle readily available to transport travelers in case of emergencies.
- Vámonos Safety Standards – Visit this page for additional information on our safety efforts.
Below are informative links on Zika facts and articles:
- Meet Puerto Rico – March 2017 – Zika Update – Infographics
- Center for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) – Zika Virus Information
- World Health Organization (WHO) – Zika Virus Information
- SYTA’s Preventing Zika In Student Travel
- Zika Myth Busters from Meet Puerto Rico Convention Bureau – April 15, 2016
- Three Reasons Not To Cancel Your Trip to Puerto Rico
- Is Larvicide The True Cause Of Brazil’s Microcephaly Outbreak?
We will continue to monitor the situation and respond to any recommendations from health and government agencies as we have always done in the past. Please know that pregnant women traveling with us may request a no-penalty cancellation by replacement or a tour refund. We require a doctor’s note confirming the traveler’s pregnancy and their inability to travel due to the virus.
We trust the latest research on the Zika virus helps alleviate travelers’ fears and makes preparing for your upcoming trip more enjoyable. We are looking forward to guiding you on this amazing opportunity and trust the experience will be a treasured one.