The outbreak of Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease linked to serious birth defects, is causing a majority of Canadians to either reconsider or cancel travel plans to countries affected by the virus, according to a new poll.
The poll from the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) released Thursday, found that 25 per cent of respondents would cancel their travel plans over the risk of contracting Zika, while 45 per cent said they would reconsider their plans. Thirty per cent of respondents said they would stick with their original travel plans and visit Zika-affected countries.
The World Health Organization has declared the epidemic to be a global health emergency, prompting travel advisories – especially for pregnant woman, who plan to go Latin American and the Caribbean.
While Zika typically causes mild symptoms like fever, feeling unwell, a rash – or in some cases no symptoms at all – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found strong evidence to link the virus with severe birth defects including microcephaly, where babies are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains.
The new ARI poll also found that most Canadians worry about the virus turning into a public health issue at home, either via people travelling here from affected regions (72 per cent) or by sexual transmission (51 per cent).
Last month, Canadian health officials confirmed the country’ s first-known case of sexually-transmitted Zika was detected in Ontario. Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s chief public health officer, said a woman is believed to have contracted the virus after having sex with a male partner, who was diagnosed after visiting a country affected by the Zika epidemic.
With Brazil at the heart of the Zika outbreak, there are growing concerns about the Rio Olympic Games, as athletes and attendees get ready for the July event.
Seventy-one per cent of Canadians surveyed said they’re worried about the health of the Canadian Olympic team, and another 76 per cent said they’re at least moderately concerned about people going to Brazil for the Olympics and bringing Zika back to their home countries.
If you do plan on travelling to countries affected by the virus, the Public Health Agency of Canada has issued recommendations:
- For women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant: avoid all non-essential travel to countries with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. If you are planning to get pregnant and may have been exposed to Zika, it is “strongly recommended” that you wait at least two months before trying to conceive.
- For men who have travelled to a Zika-affected country and have sex with men or women: use condoms for six months. If you have a pregnant partner, then it is strongly advised that you use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy — and, if you’re trying to conceive, wait at least six months, as the virus can persist in the semen of affected males.
The poll results are based on an online survey from April 28 – May 2, 2016, among a randomized sample of 1,508 Canadians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.