While travel agents are reporting some cancellations to locations where Zika virus cases have been reported, they are preparing for the possibility of more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued a travel alert for countries and territories where Zika virus has been found, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

The alert followed reports coming out of Brazil of incomplete brain development (microcephaly) in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. The CDC has also advised any pregnant women who have traveled to countries with the Zika virus to get tested if they are have two or more symptoms of the virus.

Going forward, agents are providing clients information about the virus and recommending  that they follow their doctor’s advice.

Jennifer Doncsecz, president of Bethlehem, Pa.-based VIP Vacations, which specializes in destination weddings and honeymoons, said on Wednesday that she had three inquiries in the past three days from clients traveling to affected countries, but no cancellations.

“We are very concerned. We are actually going to ask our clients, when it’s time for final payments, if they’re pregnant,” she said. “I just think the liability’s out there. If they have not heard about it, they should at least know about it.”

Connie Miller, a Travel Leaders associate in Omaha, Nebraska, said she had one family cancel a trip to Mexico because a member of the traveling party is pregnant. Instead, they are investigating alternate locations.

Another client heading to an affected country called with concerns about the disease, but Miller said she spoke to them about precautions they could take while traveling. Considering that, as well as their overall health, they opted to take the trip.

As of Tuesday evening, Sally Jane Smith, owner of Signature Travel Network member TravelSmiths in Point Pleasant, N.J., reported that three pregnant clients had canceled trips.

“They don’t want to take the chance,” she said.

Another client emailed with concerns about how resorts are handling the situation in Mexico but had not yet decided to cancel.

With all clients, Smith said, “we are suggesting that they contact their physician to guide them.”

Eric Sheets, founder of Aventura, Fla.-based Latin Excursions, a Traveller Made agency, said he has not yet had any cancellations or postponements due to Zika, but he is also counseling travelers to speak with their doctors and heed their advice.

Barkley Hickox, co-owner of The Local Foreigner, a Virtuoso agency in New York, said she received her first client inquiry about the virus on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just getting momentum in the press, and I’ve no doubt that it probably will continue to get momentum, kind of like chikungunya did awhile back,” she said.

Chikungunya is another mosquito-borne virus that commonly causes fever and joint pain. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the virus. According to the CDC, it hit the Caribbean for the first time in late 2013; outbreaks have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific oceans.

When viruses like Zika and chikungunya pop up on her clients’ radar, Hickox points them to the CDC to get the facts. “We let people make their own decisions based on that kind of information,” she said.

Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for Travel Leaders Group, said the safety of agents’ clients is a top priority.

Travel Leaders Group has been tracking Zika for some time, but Loucks said before December, the CDC called the illness “unusually mild.”

“However, once the Brazilian Health Ministry linked it with birth defects last month, we immediately began arming our agents with information they can use when discussing this mosquito-borne virus and associated destinations with their clients, especially those who are pregnant,” he said. “Keeping in mind that the vast majority of our agents’ clients are not in the same risk category as pregnant women, we also provided our agents with precautions to minimize their risk of being bitten by infected mosquitoes.”

Loucks said Travel Leaders Group agents were updated again when the CDC enhanced its advisory about Zika virus.

“Above all else, we wanted to make sure that our agents had the facts so they could convey them to clients, particularly those who are pregnant and planning on visiting one of the destinations with reported locally transmitted cases,” he said.

This report was updated at 5:18 p.m.


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