Agent Issues Agents urged to protect themselves against Zika-related lawsuits By Jamie Biesiada / February 16, 2016 Share 1 -- Travel agents have an "affirmative legal duty" to tell their clients about Zika virus, said John Hawks, co-founder of the Destination Wedding and Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA). During a webinar on Tuesday, Hawks told agents they should share a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's travel notices.The CDC in January advised pregnant women to postpone travel to countries where the mosquito-borne virus has been transmitted. That list has grown to over 30 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Central and South America. There is a possibility that Zika virus causes microcephaly (abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development) in babies whose mothers got the virus while pregnant.Hawks said agents should retain a copy of whatever method (email is recommended) they use to share the CDC’s information with clients to legally protect themselves in case a client contracts Zika and tries to take legal action against the agent.He urged agents to share only facts about Zika, not their opinions. Any clients with medical questions about traveling to a Zika-affected country should be referred to their physician, Hawks stressed.Agents should know what their travel insurance vendors do and do not cover. They should also know how preferred suppliers are handling Zika-related cancellation requests, and how they are responding to the virus (for example, a hotel putting mosquito repellent in guests’ rooms).Rodrigo Esponda, U.S. regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board, and Daniel Santiago Diaz, business development manager for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, also made webinar presentations.Mexico tourism has maintained that it is safe to travel to the country because the virus is limited to remote locations not frequented by tourists. Mexico is on the CDC’s Zika list.On Friday, a map representing where the cases have been found was released, which Esponda included in his presentation.Esponda told agents that Mexico’s Zika cases have been found in eight of 32 states, in locations that are “not even close” to popular tourist destinations.“Out of those cases that Mexico has had, we are taking [them] very seriously,” he said, adding that for years Mexico has been working on eradicating the mosquitos that carry Zika. That same mosquito carries dengue virus.“We are really dedicated … to take every measure to control and eradicate [Zika] not just in tourism destinations, but in any major city or in any part of the country,” he said.Speaking about pregnant travelers who don’t feel comfortable visiting Mexico, Esponda said that is “perfectly right,” but that Mexico’s goal is to educate consumers to make intelligent decisions about travel to the country.Similarly, Diaz said Puerto Rico — which is also on the CDC’s Zika list— is taking the virus seriously. After previous outbreaks of dengue, he said Puerto Rico is aware of how difficult it is to fight such a virus.He also noted that Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory, has the added support of the United States in fighting the virus, and is working closely with the CDC.Diaz directed agents to a statement for consumers from the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, which says that “as with all tropical locations and climates, mosquitoes are unavoidable, but can be minimized.” It suggests visitors use mosquito repellent, wear loose-fitting clothes, keep hotel windows and doors closed and screens locked in place, and take extra precautions and always use repellent when mosquitos are most prevalent, at dusk and dawn. It also directs those with further questions to contact the CDC.Hawks encouraged agents to provide their clients with not only a link to the CDC for updated information on the virus, but Esponda’s and Diaz’s presentations, as well.