US Zika advisory seen to have ‘minimal effect’ on PH tourism

By: Michelle Joy L. Padayhag, Victor Anthony V. Silva September 30,2016 - 10:39 PM

A US health advisory for pregnant women to postpone nonessential travel to 11 Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, will have very minimal effect on tourism in the country, said industry sources.

According to tourism stakeholders in Cebu, one of the Philippines’ top travel destinations, there aren’t that many pregnant women traveling and they would need to sign medical waivers if they did.

“If there is going to be an effect on tourism and travel, it will be very minimal,” Edwin Ortiz, head of the tourism committee of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.

Ortiz’ opinion was echoed by the Cebu Association of Tour Operators (Cato), which also believes that there aren’t a good number of pregnant travelers from the United States or from other countries.

“Since Zika’s target primarily are pregnant women, (the advisory) would have very minimal effect on tourist arrivals,” said Cato President Edilberto Mendoza.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the travel postponement to pregnant women because of the risk of Zika virus infection, which can cause severe birth defects including brain abnormalities. Most infected people suffer a mild and temporary illness at worst.

The latest countries singled out by the US advisory were Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Vietnam and the Philippines as places to avoid for pregnant women.

So far, US health authorities have advised pregnant women to avoid going to nearly 60 countries and regions because of the active spread of the Zika virus.

Zika is primarily a mosquito-borne disease considered endemic in Southeast Asia with many people who live in Zika infected countries likely to be immune.

But a number of US travelers have become infected in the last year, posing a danger to visitors, according to health authorities.

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DOT) logged 377,595 visitors from the US from January to May this year, registering a 7.6-percent growth from 350,776 during the same period in 2015.

This makes the US the country’s top two tourist market based on volume, second only to Korea.

The number of Korean tourists visiting the Philippines stood at 576,332 for the first five months of the year.

Health Department statistics

As of September this year, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded a total of 12 Zika cases in the country, aged 9 to 49 years old.

Most cases are female, including a 22-year-old pregnant woman from Cebu City who, according to DOH, is the first pregnant woman in the country infected with the virus. The other cases were recorded in Iloilo City and Laguna province.

Dr. Van Phillip Baton, DOH coordinator in Central Visayas for the agency’s infectious disease program said that the pregnant woman and her 19-week-old baby are doing well based on results of the mother’s last prenatal checkup with her obstetrician gynecologist.

DOH will continue to monitor the baby’s progress, Baton said as he further revealed that the woman’s family was also told to undergo laboratory testing to check if there are other Zika infections in her household.

Zika is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the same carrier of dengue fever. On some instances, it can also be sexually transmitted.

Symptoms are fever, rashes, conjunctivitis, joint pain, muscle pain, headache and vomiting that last for two to seven days.
The health department encourages those with symptoms to immediately go to the nearest hospital or clinic.

People are also advised to clean their surroundings and destroy mosquito breeding places, as well as implement self-protection measures such as the use of insect repellents, mosquito nets and condoms for protection against sexually transmitted infection of the virus.

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TAGS: Asean, Cambodia, CCCI, Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Department of Health, Department of Tourism, DOH, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Southeast Asia, Thailand, tourism, tourist, Travel, Vietnam, Zika
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