The Zika Virus And Your Vacation In Curacao


It is understandable that many people are interested in the Zika situation in vacation destinations, since the type of mosquito spreading the virus is common in South and Central America, the Caribbean, as well as the southern United States and many other parts of the world.

There are cases of local transmission in 65 countries and territories in the Americas right now, including the US territories of Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

In general, mosquito-borne diseases aren't as big a worry in Curacao as they are in many other tropical countries, because the country is relatively dry and arid. The Aedes mosquito, which spreads the virus, needs water to breed.

Most other Caribbean islands and Florida get more than double the amount of rain. So the hope is that because of the dry conditions, Curacao doesn't get a Zika outbreak.


As of July 3rd 2016, Curacao has 208 laboratory confirmed cases of Zika virus. This includes imported Zika virus cases as well as locally transmitted cases. No pregnant women have been infected, nor have any cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome been reported.

Florida health officials reported on July 19th that they were investigating a possible case of Zika that wasn't carried back by a traveler. If it's confirmed, it would be the first evidence that Zika has spread to mosquitoes in the continental U.S. All cases (311 as of July 18th) up to now have been in people who traveled to Zika-affected regions or their sexual partners.

It is expected that the Zika virus will reach nearly every corner of the Western Hemisphere very soon (except for the north west of the USA, Canada and Chile).


Photo: Anticipating the international spread of Zika virus from Brazil, The Lancet, Jan 23, 2016

Who's at risk?

Unlike the flu, the Zika virus very rarely spreads from person to person. Mosquitoes that bite an infected person can spread it to future victims. Since there's no cure for Zika, the only thing you can do to protect yourself is avoiding mosquitoes in places where the virus is circulating.

That said you don't necessarily need to cancel your trip or move your vacation to a snowy location in Canada, where it is too cold for mosquitoes. What to do really depends on your situation.

  1. If you are pregnant... Consider postponing your trip to Zika-affected countries. Over the past year, neurologists in Brazil started to notice that some pregnant women infected with the Zika virus have given birth to babies with a birth defect called microcephaly, which is characterized by a shrunken head and incomplete brain development. Researchers are still trying to figure out how many of these birth defects were really caused by the virus, and whether the relation is real but until they do, the CDC is recommending pregnant women avoid travel to areas with the virus. If you do cancel because of the Zika virus, make sure to ask your airline if they offer a refund or credit.

  2. If you're trying to get pregnant... Continue with caution. The CDC recommends consulting your doctor before traveling and following steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

  3. If you're a man with a partner who is trying to become pregnant... Scientists have known since 2008 that the Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, but they say such transmission is extremely rare. Doctors aren't sure if a person needs to be sick with obvious symptoms in order to spread the virus through semen. Eleven countries have reported evidence of person-to-person transmission of Zika virus, probably via a sexual route. The WHO said this is cause for concern and requires further investigation, but said mosquitoes are the most common means of transmission and should be the primary focus for disease control. There is a lot of uncertainty here. Researchers aren't sure how long Zika can remain in semen. And it's not clear how common sexual transmission really is. So consider this a potential risk. If you're a man trying to get your partner pregnant, and you travel to a Zika-affected region, you'll likely want to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

  4. For everyone else... There's relatively good news for everyone else; four out of five people infected by Zika have no symptoms. Those who do usually have a mild, flu-like illness: a low-grade fever, head and body aches, red eyes, and a body rash. More rarely, people with Zika report abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. It typically takes three to 12 days for illness to develop after a mosquito bite, and it tends to go away within a week. There's one final concern: In the context of Zika virus circulation, 15 countries and territories worldwide have reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and/or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases. Based on research to date, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and GBS.

There's one asterisk that should be placed on all of the above. The Zika virus only rarely affected humans before the massive outbreak in Brazil began in 2015. This means we're only just now learning about the virus's full effects. It's also possible that the virus has mutated in such a way that it's now more harmful and that it impacts people differently than it did in the past. Alternatively, it's possible that the risks of complications like microcephaly have been under- or overstated. We still need more research here.

For the most current information about Zika virus, please visit www.cdc.gov/zika.

How does Curacao respond to the Zika outbreak?

The rainy season in Curacao begins in October and lasts through February, but this is not a time which is likely to be marked with constant rain. Instead, there are intermittent storms during this time. These usually occur at night, and the days are usually still sunny. The total annual rainfall in Curacao averages only 22 inches.

Most other Caribbean islands and Florida get more than double the amount of rain. So the hope is that because of the dry conditions, Curacao doesn't get a Zika outbreak.

After it became apparent that the Chikungunya virus was spreading in Curacao during the rainy season of 2014/2015, the local authorities sprung into action. In response, they:

  • Deployed ground-level treatment to kill adult mosquitoes

  • Visited homes and businesses, looking for areas where the mosquitoes could breed, and then destroyed those habitats

  • Pressed residents to keep their properties clear of mosquito breeding areas

  • Urged everyone to take precautions like using bug repellent

According to the Curacao authorities, mosquito control efforts were kept at high levels throughout the outbreak, and they were able to wipe out mosquito breeding in the affected areas.

Once authorities can confirm a locally transmitted case of Zika, mosquito control can jump into action, and start insecticide spraying.


What visitors on Curacao are saying about the Zika virus.

What do we do to avoid having mosquitos at Villa Seashell?

The best response may be just being a good neighbor. The Aedes mosquitoes tend to reproduce in very small pools of water close to a home: in flowerpots, trash, storm drains, etc. Insecticide spraying can't always reach into those crevices. That's why homeowners have to be vigilant. And they have to urge their neighbors to be vigilant too.

At Villa Seashell, we clean up our house, and so do our neighbours. Fortunately, Coral Estate, the resort where Villa Seashell is located, is a very upscale area; you won't find any junk yards.

Lush yards are beautiful, but Villa Seashell doesn't have many plants and doesn't have a drip system to water the plants in the yard. This was done on purpose to avoid creating places for mosquitoes to breed. Neither do our neighbours in a radius of 500 yards from the house. The average Aedes mosquito will disperse relatively short distances and travel no more than 500 yards in its lifetime.

All Villa Seashells' bedrooms have screened in windows and air conditioning units to keep mosquitos out. The living room and kitchen have been built as such that the winds can blow through easily. In addition Villa Seashell is located oceanfront, there is a trade wind most of the time, and mosquitoes don't like wind, they simply blow away.


What can you do to avoid mosquito bites?

No one likes mosquito bites, not only because they're an occupational hazard, but also because they itch and form ugly inflamed spots.

Mosquitoes in Curacao mostly appear between sunset and sunrise, and tend to stay in darker areas, such as in dark corners, under tables, and on dark clothes.

If you want to get as few mosquito bites as possible while being on vacation in Curacao, here's what you need to do:


  1. Cover up The number one thing to do is cover up as much skin as you are willing to since mosquitoes can't bite through most fabrics. Pants, shoes, and a long-sleeve shirt might not be the ideal tropical outfit, but there are all sorts of light, breathable fabrics on the market today that make covering up more tolerable.

  2. Use repellent 30 Percent DEET has been found to be the most effective chemical we have at the moment for warding off mosquitoes. Higher concentrations don't actually repel mosquitoes any more effectively, so there is no reason to use those. Milder plant-based repellents, which contain active ingredients like picaridin and eucalyptus, can work for some people but it is advised that you try them first before relying on them. Repellents should be reapplied at regular intervals, after swimming and in hot, humid conditions when they may be removed by perspiration. When both sunscreens and repellents are used, the repellent should be applied over sunscreen. Insect repellents, like OFF, can be bought at all supermarkets and drug stores (called botica) in Curacao, but may become more scarce in case the island doesn’t get sufficient supply at higher demand. It is therefore recommended you buy a repellent in your home country and take it with you on vacation.

  1. Wear light colors When mosquitoes get a little closer, they start using vision to sense people. Dark colors are much easier for them to see than light ones, and therefore, it is advised to wear light colors and white instead of wearing black or dark blue.

  2. Don't rely on citronella Ultimately, DEET is the best chemical there is for repelling mosquitoes and candles containing citronella oil, experts say, are way less effective. Setting up candles outside might help repel mosquitoes slightly, but it's not a substitute for putting repellent on your skin

The CDC recommends the following steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

What’s the best way to protect yourself from taking a financial hit if you want to change your travel plans?

Buy travel insurance, but the right kind. When you are heading to a Zika-affected area you should purchase a plan with a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) option; RoamRight and Travel Insured International are two companies that offer such plans.

Other interesting blog posts about Zika: Zika Virus – The Oregon Coast and Your Vacation, by The Houses on Manzanita Beach

Interested in staying with us? Contact us for information about our oceanfront villa, one of the nicest Curacao vacation rentals.


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