airports and zika

Airports vs. the Zika virus

At Fort Lauderdale, Zika virus information is on display screens, right nex to the flight information screens_courtesy FLL Airport

My most recent “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY takes a look at how airports are working to educate travelers about the Zika virus – and make sure airport grounds don’t become another breeding ground for the virus.

Shops and newsstands, including those run by the Hudson Group in Chicago O’Hare, Seattle-Tacoma and Orlando International Airports, are making sure to carry several brands of insect repellant, including OFF! Deep Woods and Cutter.

At Miami International Airport, an advisory (in English and Spanish) from the Centers for Disease Control is on display in passport clearance areas and airport employees have been issued cards instructing them how to recognize and respond to passengers with communicable diseases, including Zika.

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Zika prevention messages from the CDC (in English and Spanish) are front and center right next to many flight display screens.

And at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, signs have been placed throughout the airport, at the U.S. Customs area and in Baggage claim alerting travelers about the Zika virus and offering tips on protection and prevention measures. The airport has also made sure EPA-registered insect repellents are available for purchase in airport newsstands.

Orlando International Airport and both airports in Houston have Zika virus plans in place as well.

“Working in conjunction with our community partners, we feel these steps are not only appropriate but necessary to demonstrate our efforts at protecting our passengers and employees,” Orlando International said in a statement that outlined its plan.

ZIKA_Airport_sign from Houston

And, among the strategies in place at the Houston airports are reminders to employees of the “4 D’s”: Drain (eliminate standing water); Dress (wear long sleeves, pants and socks); Dusk/Dawn (avoid these peak mosquito times) and DEET (use proper repellants).

What else do you need to know if you are heading somewhere where cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed?

“Bring plenty of mosquito repellent, long shirts and pants, and a full-coverage hat,” advises Julia Cosgrove, AFAR’s editor in chief. “Avoid areas where there’s standing water. And, if you are on the coast, stay close to the beach where there’s wind and relatively few mosquitoes.”

Zika virus & business travel policies

The news about the Zika virus just keeps getting worse.

Infographic: The Spread Of The Zika Virus | Statista

Researchers are predicting which U.S. airports are most likely to begin seeing arriving passengers infected with the virus (Texas and Florida top the list) and companies of all sizes are trying to figure out what to do about holding events in other countries and sending employees out on the road now that there are 30 countries and territories around the world where the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been found.

Here’s one of the Zika & Travel stories I put together for

Fit & Fly Girl, a two-employee company, has a luxury retreat scheduled soon in Costa Rica, which the Centers for Disease Control recently added to the list of countries where travelers risk being infected the Zika virus.

“To our knowledge, none of the women who will be attending the retreat are pregnant,” said company founder Rebecca Garland, but she’s trying to decide whether its best to just pass along the CDC’s advice about covering up and wearing insect repellent, to tell women who might be pregnant to stay home or to just cancel the event altogether.

Much larger companies, such as Chevron, with more than 64,000 employees around the world, are also closely monitoring the fast-changing news about the Zika virus and alerting employees about their options.

“Chevron’s practice is to allow employees with travel-related health concerns to discuss these with their doctor, and if medically indicated, to opt out of planned business travel,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Right now, International SOS, a company that provides emergency and support services for international travelers, is advising its more than 10,000 corporate clients around the world to adhere to the CDC guidelines, “which are very dynamic and evolving,” said Robert Quigley, the company’s senior vice-president.

And while some companies are offering employees the opportunity to decline business travel with no questions asked, Quigley said “many clients are asking us ‘What is everyone else doing?’ They don’t want to make a decision until they know what the benchmark is.”

The CDC will likely come out with more recommendations and further advisories regarding travel and the Zika virus but, in the meantime, the U.S. military is taking action and offering pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees the option to relocate away from areas affected by the Zika virus.

“It’s ironic,” said Quigley, “Typically its corporate American that sets the tone and the government lags behind. But in this case it’s the government that has stepped up.”

Many companies with systems already in place to alert employees to precautions they should be taking while traveling are taking the Zika virus alerts in stride, said Tim MacDonald, Executive Vice President of Travel at Concur.

“The Zika virus news is fast-moving, but in many ways it is no different than other risks, including terrorist threats, that many companies face with respect to travel,” he said. “The typical best practice is to make sure employees are aware of the risk, let them know the precautions and encourage them to delay travel if they are at risk.”

Some universities around the country have adopted a similar approach to assessing travel risks.

The University of Wisconsin spends approximately $130 million a year on travel across its 26 campuses and requires employees, students and guests that travel on university-sponsored business to book through a dedicated tool.

“One of the reasons we do this is to identify where our travelers intend to go and then alert them and appropriate management in the event of health issues or travel warnings,” said Terri Gill, ‎the university’s system-wide travel and expense manager.

Plans that involve travel to areas where the Zika virus (and Ebola) have been reported are being reviewed by the university’s risk management offices and health services operations and some travelers are being counseled to delay or cancel their plans.

While keeping everyone safe is most important, the precautions can come with a price tag, said Gill, “If we’re not able to fulfill educational or research plans, then it’s a detriment as well.”