SAN JUAN – Zika is spreading quickly through the Caribbean, where local authorities fear its link with microcephaly and other fetal brain defects, as well as the recent death of a Puerto Rican man infected with the virus, will cause a drop in tourism to the region.
“I was planning on traveling to Puerto Rico in May, but I admit everything you hear about Zika made me afraid. I’m trying to stay pregnant and it’s terrifying to imagine that one simple getaway would lead to my future child having microcephaly,” Carla Latorre, a New York resident who ended up deciding to visit New Orleans instead, told EFE.
The secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Hugh Riley, told EFE that for the moment large tourism operators have not reported any significant Zika-triggered decrease in demand.
The CTO says that no information is currently available on how the virus, which like dengue fever and Chikungunya is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has affected the regional tourist industry and that it is too early to draw any conclusions.
But concern is palpable on the most affected islands, like cash-strapped and recession-hit Puerto Rico, where on Friday authorities confirmed that a 70-year-old man who had been hospitalized in February with fever died 24 hours later due to internal bleeding caused by a rare immune reaction to the virus.
The Puerto Rican government has launched a campaign aimed at convincing would-be tourists that it is safe to travel to the U.S. commonwealth, noting that less than half of 1 percent of the island’s population has been infected with the virus.
In a statement before the first Zika-linked death was reported, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, said that “as a tropical island in the Caribbean” Puerto Rico has extensive experience fighting mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit.