Spread of Zika virus could bite Florida’s tourism industry, say experts

Zika cases in Miami prompt travel advisories
WATCH ABOVE: The U.S. has issued a travel advisory within its own borders after a dozen cases of mosquito-borne Zika virus were diagnosed in a Miami neighbourhood. As Mike Drolet reports, there's also a warning for Canadian travellers headed south.

Health officials in Canada and the U.S. are urging pregnant women to avoid travelling to parts of Florida amid reported cases of Zika virus, in a rare move that could have implications for the popular vacation destination, say experts.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned pregnant women, and those planning to get pregnant from travelling to parts of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties hit by the Zika virus.

READ MORE: Pregnant Canadian women urged to avoid parts of Florida due to Zika virus

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Gregory Taylor said during a media call Tuesday afternoon that roughly four million Canadians visit Florida annually and an unknown number could be affected by the latest U.S. discovery.

Taylor added that any pregnant women who visited the area on or after June 15 should see their health care providers for testing and women who have been to the region should wait two months before trying to become pregnant.

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“Canada is the largest international market for Florida,” said Rochelle Turner, research director World Travel and Tourism Council. “[The travel advisories] will have an impact, but the extent that is has an impact will depend largely on the information that comes out.”

Turner said the impact will be widely felt if the warnings are extended to the greater Miami area or for the entire state of Florida.

WATCH: Florida governor talks Zika outbreak in Miami.
Florida governor talks Zika outbreak in Miami
Florida governor talks Zika outbreak in Miami

Roughly 1.2 million Floridians are employed by the state’s tourism industry, and tourist spending totalled $89 billion in 2015, according to data from the Florida Department of Revenue.

However, Turner said unlike other diseases that affect large sections of the population Zika is “very specific to a certain age group.”

“This is quite a specific, narrow group of people who will be impacted by this decision to put out this unprecedented travel warning,” she said. “Pregnant women and their partners, and people who are looking to get pregnant should avoid this area.”

WATCH: Officials warn about Zika outbreak in Miami neighbourhood

Officials warn about Zika outbreak in Miami neighbourhood
Officials warn about Zika outbreak in Miami neighbourhood

The CDC said there are now 14 cases that are thought to have occurred in Miami’s Wynwood district.

Infection from Zika virus causes abnormally small heads in babies and the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Male travellers are warned that Zika can linger for an extended period of time in their bodies and are strongly advised to use condoms or avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy, according to Canada’s public health agency.

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Alex Bittner, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, says if you’re really worried about planning an upcoming trip to Florida, now is the time to buy trip cancellation insurance.

“All-inclusive travel insurance programs are exceptional,” Bittner told Global News. “If the government decides we need to avoid all travel or all essential travel to Florida or the affected areas, then the insurer would kick into gear and pay the trip cancellation claim.”

READ MORE: Mosquitoes now spreading Zika virus in US, officials warn

He added that because the Zika virus only mild cause mild illness in most people, the number of Canadian snowbirds heading to Florida for the winter won’t be affected.

“The aging senior wouldn’t be affected that much from a bite from a [zika infected mosquito],” Bittner. “The average traveller would have mild discomfort, some people that get stung from a mosquito don’t even realize it.”

The warning from Canada’s public health agency is relatively rare and followed Monday’s unprecedented travel warning from the CDC after officials with the disease-fighting agency said they could not remember another time its 70-year history when it told members of the public to avoid traveling to a specific place inside the U.S.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday said he is requesting the help of federal health officials to help investigate the spread of Zika, but the sunshine state remains “open for business.”

“While I encourage all residents and visitors to continue to use precaution by draining standing water and wearing bug spray, Florida remains safe and open for business,” Scott said in a statement. “This year, we have already welcomed a record 30 million tourists and we look forward to welcoming more visitors to Florida this summer.”

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*With files from the Associated Press