I was surprised by the panic around the Zika virus during a recent visit I made to the USA. After all, I live in South America, where according to the US media Zika is a huge epidemic.
So, the first thing you need to know if you are considering a trip to Uruguay is that locally, noone is concerned about Zika.
Let’s get a little perspective.
Zika is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Mosquitos thrive in warm climates, especially tropical climates.
South America is a huge continent made up of lots of different countries. Some of those countries to the north are tropical or have areas that are tropical* and have mosquitos all year round.
Other countries have temperate climates so during their winter the mosquitos die out. Uruguay falls into this latter group.
Is the Zika virus in Uruguay?
Uruguay has had just one case of Zika – ever. A local man who had been on holiday in Brazil contracted it and the case was reported in April this year. Since then there have been no other cases.
Compare this to the USA where there have been over 800 cases confirmed.
So should you be worried about Zika if you come to Uruguay?
If you are planning your trip between the time of writing and mid spring then you really have no need to worry. We are in winter and mosquitoes are inactive in winter. They reactivate when temperatures regularly reach 18 degrees, in say, October or November.
But even as summer approaches, you are in good hands. Historically Uruguay has a very good public health system and a population that embraces public health campaigns.
For instance, after being the only country in this part of South America to have never had a reported case of local dengue, in February there was a local outbreak. The Ministry of Health stepped in quickly to control spread. Within a month the outbreak was over, there had been just thirty cases and no deaths.
Besides, with air travel so prevalent nowadays you are just as likely to come into contact with Zika in Canada as in Montevideo.
So get informed about Zika
I would recommend you listen to this 30-minute interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with the author of a new book Zika: The Emerging Epidemic. Donald G McNeil Jr says in a nutshell that unless you are planning to get pregnant, or get your partner pregnant then you should not be concerned about Zika.
The interview also looks at the situation of visiting South America for the Olympics. It gives a nuanced perspective to combat the broad-brush semi-hysteria being whipped up about a supposedly “Zika-infested South America”.
(It seems absolutely exaggerated to me that due to an outbreak in an Argentinian city fourteen hours drive away from Buenos Aires, the CDC has placed the entire country on its Zika alert list (oh, unless you’re staying over 6.500 ft!). When mosquitoes are lucky to fly half a mile in their entire lifespan. Anyway.)
Zika virus: what travellers need to know The Guardian only recommends cancelling your South American holiday if you are pregnant
What Travelers Need to Know About the Zika Virus National Geographic mentions that doctors are more worried about other diseases than Zika
*Some countries are so huge they have a variety of climates. So northern Brazil is hot year-round whereas southern Brazil has cold winters, just like Uruguay.
Photo: Erik F. Brandsborg