As health authorities warn of the possible spread of Zika virus throughout the Caribbean and into the US, pregnant British women with confirmed bookings to the region are facing uncertainty and the risk of heavy financial losses if they cancel planned trips.
Since the start of 2015, 33 countries have reported locally-spread cases of Zika, which is believed to be linked to a birth defect that hampers brain development.
The Caribbean is particularly hard hit, with the infection prevalent in Barbados, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St Martin and the US Virgin Islands.
All the countries bordering the Caribbean except Belize and the US have so far reported locally-acquired cases of Zika.
UK airlines and holiday companies are allowing pregnant women to switch destinations or postpone planned trips, but only if they are booked to one of the affected countries. Mothers-to-be who have holidays planned in neighbouring locations have no opportunity to change or cancel their trips without penalty.
Alexandra Woolmore took to Twitter on behalf of her sister, Georgina, who is pregnant and is booked to travel to Antigua next month. Antigua is 40 miles north of Guadeloupe, one of the destinations to which “Pregnant women are advised to reconsider travel” by the NHS.
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
A worker of the Salvadorean Ministry of Health fumigates a house in Soyapango, 6 kilometers from San Salvador, El Salvador. Salvadorean authorities have began a three days campaign of fumigation to reduce the presence of the mosquito that transmit the Zika virus.
A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-BarrÈ Syndrome in foetuses.
AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOSMarvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A pediatric infectologist examines a two-months-old baby, who has microcephaly, on 26 January 2016 in Recife, Brazil.
A woman walks through the fumes as Health Ministry employee fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango.
Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A health ministry employee sprays to eliminate breeding sites of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits diseases such as the dengue, chicunguna and Zica viruses, in a Tegucigalpa cemetery on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA
A man walks away from his home with his son as health workers fumigates the Altos del Cerro neighbourhood as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Soyapango, El Salvador
A three-months-old, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil.
A pregnant woman waits to be attended at the Maternal and Children's Hospital in Tegucigalpa. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Army soldiers apply insect repellent as they prepare for a clean up operation against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
AP Photo/Andre Penner
Workers disinfect the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro to fight the spread of the Zika virus
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, measures the head of a 2-month-old baby with microcephaly in Recife
Mother Mylene Helena Ferreira cares for her son David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who has microcephaly, on January 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants
U.S. women who are pregnant from traveling to many South American countries
In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants.
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, examines a two-month-old baby with microcephaly on January 27, 2016 in Recife, Brazil
Brazil is one of the countries in South America where the Zika virus has taken hold
Health workers fumigating to combat Zika virus in Lima, Peru. The US have already issued a warning urging pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin American countries
Two-month-old Jose Wesley, born with microcephaly in Brazil, is nursed by his brother
The sisters asked British Airways if they could swap tickets, so that Alexandra could travel in place of Georgina. BA refused, a decision that Alexandra described as “Needlessly inflexible and hard-hearted.” She told The Independent on Sunday: “I was stunned to find that their non-transfer policy was so rigid that they were unwilling to make exceptions, even in unusual cases such as this.
“They have demonstrated a complete lack of sympathy to Georgina's situation.”
British Airways said: “We are keeping the situation under review on a day-by-day basis.”
While airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and a number of hotels are offering full refunds to women who have a letter confirming pregnancy, tour operators are not obliged to return payments in full. Jean-Louis Gandon and his partner - who is 16 weeks pregnant - were planning a honeymoon in Barbados next month. Having paid £5,180 for the trip, they cancelled when Zika was confirmed on the island. Initially the travel firm offered to refund only £1,950, but later increased the offer to £4,340 - leaving the couple still £840 out of pocket.
Mr Gandon said they were “extremely disappointed” by the attitude of their holiday company. “To say that we are deeply upset that we now cannot go on our honeymoon for health reasons, brought about by the Zika virus, is an understatement.”
The Pan American Health Organization warns the infection could spread everywhere in the Americas except Chile and Canada - including the US, and in particular Florida.
On Friday, a case of Zika was reported in central Florida - home to Orlando, the theme-park capital. The Florida Department of Health said the infection had been contracted abroad, and that the victim was not a pregnant woman.Reuse content