The mosquito-borne Zika virus is reason enough to cancel travel plans to a country where the virus is active. No expectant mother wants to risk giving birth to an infant with the devastating microcephaly birth defect. The latest CDC information is that a pregnant woman infected with Zika in the first trimester faces a risk of up to 13% that her unborn child will develop microcephaly. Despite the risk, hotels in affected areas remain open for business and purport to take precautions to protect their guests from contracting the virus.

The Tourism Industry’s Response to Zika Outbreak

The tourism industry has taken measures to avoid cancellations by guests of childbearing age who are concerned about contracting the Zika virus. These measures are two-fold, the first of which has nothing to do with enhancing safety. The first measure adopted by hotels and resorts is to overcome resistance to travel by offering steep discounts on vacation packages. The second measure is a campaign to allay fears and overcome warnings through reassurances of methods in place to avoid mosquito bites. As discussed below, such methods are no antidote to the risk of bites by infected mosquitos.

Public Knowledge of Zika Risk; Undermined by Safety Assurances

Travel advisories have been posted by the CDC and WHO, and media stories and blogs on a daily basis report on the hazards associated with Zika virus. Given this publicity, you can sense the handiwork of lawyers providing Zika litigation avoidance advice. Hotels may receive advice that they face no liability for a hazard if the presence of Zika-infected mosquitos is “widespread, public knowledge.” However, it is unwise to assume that the presence of Zika at a specific location is widespread, public knowledge, especially when a hotel provides overriding assurances of safety.

Hotel “Zika-Prevention” Measures are inadequate.  Hotels seek to reassure prospective guests who fear Zika. Precautions are touted such as fogging outdoor areas, providing mosquito repellant and netting for guest use, addressing areas of standing water and providing information packets. Unfortunately, these assurances, accompanied by expressions of concern to safeguard guests, may operate to provide guests with a false sense of security.

The Doubtful Efficacy of Zika-Prevention Measures

Questions on efficacy of such measures include:

1. How effective is fogging? This would seem to be a transient, stop-gap measure. How often is fogging performed, and on what scale? The thoroughness of the fogging procedures may be called into question. Undoubtedly, areas of concern can get missed based on which way the wind is blowing. A mosquito needs only some water in a bottle cap to lay up to 200 eggs. Is it clear that infected mosquitos from neighboring unfogged properties won’t fly in to feed on guests after the treatment? Complete mosquito eradication on the premises in an area where Zika-infected mosquitos are known to be present, would appear to be an unlikely prospect.

2. To be effective, repellant use, by its nature, requires that it be applied to all exposed skin. What if a patch of skin is overlooked, or what happens when it wears off or is washed off in the pool? Is it reasonable to expect guests to be slathered with an effective coating of repellant for every minute of possible exposure?  Having Hotel guests 100% covered in repellant for every minute of outside exposure is unreasonable.

Abstinence While On Vacation Is Unlikely To Occur 

There is also the question of men who, for whatever reason, fail to appreciate that they too, can play a key role in transmission. A man may fail to appreciate the risk, get bit by an infected mosquito, contract the disease, and may remain completely symptomless like 80% of the population. Unwittingly, while infected, the Zika virus can be transmitted to his partner via semen or saliva.

The tourism industry markets travel to these hotels and resorts as romantic getaways.  Is it a realistic solution to counsel travelers to Zika-infected regions to abstain from sex? Abstinence is unrealistic.  Absent this precaution, or use of condoms, which is urged by the CDC, Zika transmission remains an open possibility. The World Health Organization’s most recent guidelines counsel that couples should consider abstinence for at least eight weeks following return from areas where Zika transmission is known to occur. If Zika virus symptoms (fever, conjunctivitis, rash, joint pain) appear before or within that period, “safer sex” practices or abstinence should be practiced for six months, according to WHO. The WHO guidelines, in this regard, seem to disregard the significance of symptomless Zika disease. Since 80% of those persons infected with Zika virus show no symptoms, it would appear that the truly prudent person will adhere to the advice to abstain for six months.

Bottom line, until such time as a Zika vaccine is invented, or Zika-infected insects are eliminated by effective treatments, the risk remains. Hotels giving assurances of precautions designed to protect the safety and well being of guests may foster a false sense of security. Those hollow assurances may leave the hotel vulnerable to liability based on negligent misrepresentation.

Zika Virus Injury Lawyers

Injuries arising from Zika infections can be severe and traumatic to victims and their families.  The Zika Virus Injury Attorneys at Whitney, LLP have kept updated with Zika medical and health news, and have evaluated the standards of care that hotels are required to comlply with to keep their guests safe.  The attorneys of Whitney,LLP are available for legal consultations with individuals, and their families. who may have been injured by and contracted the Zika Virus.  Contact us now at 410 583 8000, or use our Quick Contact Form.


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