Is The Zika Virus A Threat To Your Next Golf Vacation?

If you follow professional golf, you have probably heard that a number of the top professional golfers in the world have withdrawn from the Olympics - to which golf returns this year for the first time in more than a century - over stated concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has reached epidemic levels in some Caribbean, Latin and South American countries over the last year.

Last Tuesday, top-ranked golfer Jason Day withdrew from consideration, adding his name to a list that included fellow major champions Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. More names are expected to be added to the list in the coming weeks.

This spate of withdrawals from the Olympics has understandably accompanied concern from recreational golfers over whether they should alter their own travel concerns over Zika. Our take? Basically, that while Zika isn't a non-issue, it's easily avoidable as long as you travel smart and prepare properly. Here's more:

What is Zika?
With its first cases reported back in 1952 in Africa (the Zika forest in Uganda), Zika is a virus carried by two common species of mosquitoes.

How Can You Get Zika?
If an infected mosquito bites a person, that person may contract the virus. The virus can also be transmitted from person-to-person sexually.

What Happens if You Get Zika?
The virus itself is not very harmful to adult humans -- symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis -- and its lasts in the body for a week, sometimes more. An infected pregnant woman, however, can pass it to her fetus and serious birth defects can result.

Which Golf Destinations Are Riskiest for Zika?
If you're planning a trip to the Caribbean, Central and South America, it is fairly likely that the country or territory you'll be visiting has reported cases of Zika virus.

Thankfully, the virus has not been transmitted by mosquitoes on the U.S. mainland, but Puerto Rico has reported a number of cases of mosquito-to-human transmission.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, so too have golf hotbeds like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Aruba and Barbados, among others, per the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Notably absent from the CDC's list are the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and St. Kitts & Nevis, which are all attractive to golfers.

We would be remiss not to mention as well that there have been cases of Zika reported in Mexico, but away from the major tourist areas of Cabo, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Still, precautions are necessary. Speaking of which...

What Should You Do to Prevent Zika?
Believe it or not, there aren't any special precautions to take outside of the normal mosquito bite-avoiding strategies.

The CDC recommends the use of bug spray with DEET or other EPA-registered compounds, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and staying in places with air conditioning and screens on windows.

If you want to be extra comprehenzive, consider treating your clothes with permethrin.

Now, these are all steps people take, in varying degrees of diligence, in order to keep mosquitoes -- as well as other biting bugs -- away. The main difference, of course, is that Zika raises the stakes of getting bitten, although not by a huge amount.

If you are a pregnant woman, yes, it is probably best to stay away from areas that have been affected by Zika. But with sensible preventative measures, the risk of infection is tiny, and the infection itself is far from life-threatening to adults.

If you're not pregnant and are willing to take the very mild risk, you may be rewarded in a few ways.

First of all, airfares to areas that have reported cases of Zika have slid, and if you do travel to an affected area, you are likely to find it a little less crowded that you otherwise might have. And if you're looking to maximize golf opportunities on your trip, this can mean an extra nine or even 18 holes on certain days, and faster rounds due to less crowded courses.

On the other hand, if you're truly averse to visiting a Zika-affected area under any circumstances and want to wait until things subside, you're almost definitely not going to have to eat any already-spent money on airfare or hotel reservations.

Many of the major airlines are offering complimentary flight reschedulings and re-bookings if your original itinerary was to take you to a Zika-afflicted area. 

So if you'd been raring to go to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and are feeling apprehensive now, you might look into Hawaii, the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands as a tropical but Zika-free alternative.

If you have/had plans to go to a Zika-prone area, would you change them? Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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Commented on

I'd like to expand on what John said. Apparently, men who have contracted the virus, and recovered, can still spread the virus, since the virus can still be present for quite some time after the initial symptoms have passed. Please check out the CDC's web site or a brief "New York Times" article, from I think, April 2016.

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I don't think you make it clear that Zika is just as dangerous to men who are or will be seeking to impregnate a woman as it is to child bearing women. Infected men can transmit the disease to their partner and cause the child to be deformed. That is why they are staying away.

Commented on

Good golf holiday Zika free? Ireland! Great courses, great people and sunshine (two weeks in May).

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The Olympics in Brazil are at a time when it is winter there and according to Candy Hanniman (an LPGA member)they do not have bugs there in winter. If that is the case then it makes these golfers who are withdrawing because of the Zika virus look kind of stupid for not checking the details. They should have more respect for their country and the Olympics. I also see that the virus only lasts in your system for about a week so what.

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