Zika in Africa: Should you worry?

misconceptions about african safaris

The Zika virus has been all over the news in recent months. If you are an avid traveler who is planning an African safari tour, you might be nervous about traveling while this illness is an epidemic. Though the brunt of the reports has been focusing on countries in South America, the Zika virus actually originated in Africa (Uganda, specifically). Before you panic and cancel your big trip, you need to know one important fact—there is no documentation of birth defects that are related to Zika in Africa. This is good news for you, but it naturally raises some questions in the scientific and medical communities. Why has there been no surge in microcephaly due to Zika in Africa?

What Is All the Fuss About?

Let us backtrack a moment—why is everyone so worried about the Zika virus, anyway? It has been around nearly 50 years, and has never seemed to be a crisis until recently. Little is known about Zika and how it affects an individual. The symptoms are very similar to a cold or flu and, for most who are unlucky enough to contract it, the illness resolves itself in a matter of days. However, there is one group who are at the mercy of the Zika virus—the unborn. Women who could become pregnant or are already pregnant have been advised that Zika is linked to the major birth defect, microcephaly. This defect is characterized by the baby having a very small head. If you are not pregnant or could become pregnant, there is little reason for concern that the medical community is aware of.

What Is Different About Africa?

Zika in Africa is different because there has been no association made between the virus itself and the birth defect, microcephaly. Scientists are not sure if the virus changed on its journey from Africa to South America, or if the virus has no links to microcephaly after all. They are truly puzzled—how can the same virus behave so differently on separate continents?  

By the Numbers

One major difference in the Zika outbreaks in Africa and South America are the populations that are impacted. In Africa, the mosquitoes that carry the virus live in sparsely populated areas. As a result, the largest Zika outbreak on the continent was just 20,000. This pales in comparison to what is playing out in South America, where 1.5 million individuals have been infected by the Zika virus. These numbers could be a reason why there have been no recorded cases of birth defects linked to Zika in Africa—the population is simply too low to detect any associated complications.

Should You Worry?

Whenever you are traveling to another country, you should always speak with your doctor about potential illnesses that you might contract and how you can prevent them once you arrive. You should also make sure that your health is good enough to travel. Since Zika is not prevalent in Africa, you should not be too concerned with contracting it while you are on your African safari tour. For more information on booking your trip, visit our safari tours page or contact a representative with Roho Ya Chui today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

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