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Is the zika virus a threat in Bali?

Over the past week or so there have been several reports in the Australian media that there has been an outbreak of the zika virus in Bali, warning tourists to ‘rethink’ their travel to Bali.

Bali zika news headlines

From the Australian government’s smart traveler website:

“Indonesia is experiencing sporadic transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.”

The Bali Hotel Association has put out a press release saying the claims are false, saying:

“We can only deplore… that the Australian travel warning system relays information that is often linked to hearsay, is not location-specific and, most importantly, that each time new information is posted, it pops-up as a ‘change in travel warning’ and every time replicating fears that are not founded,” the BHA said.

The latest “situation report” from the WHO states that no Zika cases were recorded in Indonesia between 2013 and 2016. Asia Pacific countries with recorded cases include Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vietnam and the Philippines.”

Of course the BHA has an interest in ensuring tourists keep traveling to Bali, so I thought I would check the WHO website to see if their claims are correct.

You can see for yourself here, a map showing “Countries, territories and areas showing the distribution of Zika virus, 2013 – 2016” and clearly there is no mention of Indonesia.

Zika map

I also checked the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website and it says zika is endemic to Indonesia, not to be confused with an epidemic.

Endemic is defined as:

These countries have reported cases of Zika in the past and may occasionally report new cases. A large number of local residents are likely to be immune, so occasional cases may occur but generally do not become outbreaks. Because the risk to travelers is likely much lower in these countries than in epidemic countries, travel notices will not be posted unless the number of cases rises to the level of an outbreak.

Zika map CDC

The CDC has some good information for people traveling to countries where zika is endemic.

Is it safe for pregnant women to travel to countries with endemic Zika?

Although the risk of getting Zika in countries with endemic Zika is likely lower than in countries with epidemic Zika, it is not zero. Therefore, there is still a risk that a pregnant woman could get Zika and pass it to her fetus. Pregnant women or women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their doctor. If they choose to travel, they should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.

The point of the post was to check the validity of the claims on both sides. I am no medical expert and in no way should this blog be used to decide whether you should travel to Bali or not. It does seem however the headlines in the Australian media have been overblown. The smart traveler website says ‘sporadic transmission’, while the WHO and CDC websites are saying no active transmission.

The real concern for me and my family has always been dengue fever, which has been particularly rife here in Bali this year. Zika is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, which are the same mosquitoes as those which spread dengue.

Zika could certainly be a threat in the future. You just need to look at the ongoing rabies problem in Bali, which is something that could have been prevented, but was let out of control.

If you are concerned at all about traveling to Bali with the threat of zika, please consult with your doctor.

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