In the wake of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
declaration from the World Health Organization, the Zika virus has moved from isolated areas to a major global issue with serious implications for pregnant women. The virus has been tied to a surge in the number of incidents of microcephaly, a condition that causes brain damage and abnormally small heads in infants.
The initial outbreak centered on South America and Latin America, but the virus is spreading rapidly with reports showing that Zika has appeared in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Pacific Islands and a number of other places. One of the most alarming recent reports highlights that Zika’s transmission is not confined to mosquitoes; the CDC confirmed that Zika was transmitted sexually in Texas.
There are many uncertainties surrounding Zika and how the global healthcare community will handle the crisis. As the situation continues to unfold, PCMA will monitor its implications for you, your organizations and your attendees. For now, here are five key lessons for everyone in the meetings industry.
1) How many people are going to be affected by the virus?
The WHO estimates between 3 million and 4 million people in the Americas will be infected with the virus over the next year. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will get sick. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control says that only one in five people infected with Zika will actually display symptoms. “For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild,” the CDC states in an informational section of its website. “For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.”
2) What does the virus mean for pregnant women?
The CDC is advising women at any stage of a pregnancy to consider postponing travel to any area where the Zika virus is currently being transmitted. For women who are trying to become pregnant, the organization recommends consulting a doctor before traveling and taking strict measures to prevent mosquito bites.
3) How is the travel industry dealing with the outbreak?
United, American and Delta have all announced refund policies for travelers with plans to visit countries where Zika transmission has been reported. The future financial impact is unknown, but it seems likely that more leisure travelers, business travelers and convention attendees may postpone or cancel plans to visit impacted areas.
4) What’s going on in the United States?
The most serious action in the United States occurred on February 4 when Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a public health emergency after nine state residents were diagnosed with Zika. All of the patients had traveled to the Caribbean and Latin America. The state of emergency impacts Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee and Santa Rosa Counties. Visitors and residents alike may be alarmed to hear of the state of emergency, but the order is designed to give Florida officials enhanced capabilities to develop extensive proactive mosquito control plans to combat the spread of Zika.
5) How should you communicate with your attendees about ZIka?
“There’s a lot we don’t know about Zika yet, but we do know that attendees will have many questions,” Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, Senior Vice President, Education and Events, PCMA, says. “Organizations should take a proactive approach to dealing with any type of health concern and make sure they are the go-to source for information about traveling to the conference.”
“If your organization is hosting an event in an area impacted by Zika transmission, you’ll need to consider options for impacted attendees that keep their safety as the top priority,” Peacy adds.”
We will keep the PCMA community updated as more news about Zika becomes available. For now, please consult this guide from the CDC for more knowledge.