With local cases of Zika increasing in lower Florida, Walt Disney World has started distributing free insect repellant at stations through the parks and Disney Springs as a precautionary measure. Hotel rooms are being equipped with aerosol bug spray, and signs have gone up around Walt Disney World informing visitors about the repellent and other measures that can can help them avoid mosquito bites.
While Walt Disney World can’t really do anything to prevent Zika from spreading to Orlando, these prophylactic measures aimed are at “mosquito prevention” (there’s no explicit mentioning Zika, which is both a literal and figurative four-letter word to the tourism industry). We thought we’d address the topic here with some tips and links to useful resources concerning Zika.
When it comes to mosquitos, it might be reassuring to know that this isn’t Walt Disney World’s first rodeo. Back when the Florida Department of Health issued an alert for West Nile virus in Orange County back in 2002, the Orlando Sentinel detailed Disney’s pest-control measures (that’s a really fascinating read, by the way). This includes a full-service mosquito control operation that sprays, traps(?), and scouts to determine concentration zones. (That could explain the otherwise-inexplicable decision to fill the abandoned River Country pool, which otherwise seems a bit like trying to patch the Titanic with duct tape.)
So, what should you know about mosquito prevention and Zika at Walt Disney World? Let’s start with a bit of primer, courtesy of the Center for Disease Control. Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These are the same types of mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters that can also bite at night. Sexual transmission of Zika is also possible.
People bitten by a Zika-infected mosquito can develop symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, or headache–but 4 in 5 people don’t develop any symptoms at all. The incubation period for Zika is thought to be a few days, with the symptoms normally lasting for less than a week.
The mild, direct symptoms of Zika require no specific treatment, and there is currently no vaccine available, and one might be years away. The CDC recommend those who are infected get rest, stay hydrated, and treat fever with common medicines. In the rare event that symptoms worsen, seeking medical care is advised. Although there is some emerging science associating Zika with Guillain-Barré syndrome, this is in a very small number of cases–most of those who are infected with Zika recovery fully and without medical treatment. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, which is a type of unusually small heads and brain damage in children born to infected mothers. There are also links to blindness, deafness, seizures, and other congenital defects in newborns. In regions where local epidemics have occurred, the World Health Organization has encouraged couples to delay pregnancy until herd immunity is strong.
This is all relevant to Walt Disney World because the Florida Department of Health has identified two areas of Miami-Dade County where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes, identified above in red.
At present, the CDC is advising that pregnant women do not travel to the infected areas. Both pregnant women and their partners concerned about being exposed to Zika may want to consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County. Women and men who travel to these areas should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant even if no symptoms develop. (In men, if symptoms develop, the CDC recommends waiting at least 6 months before trying. Again, since sexual transmission of Zika is possible, it is important for both sexes.)
A state-wide travel advisory to Florida has not been issued, nor have any advisories been issued for Orange and Osceola Counties, where Walt Disney World is located. As Zika has slowly spread from the Caribbean and Latin America north to Florida, and the swamps of central Florida are a hospitable environment for this type of mosquitos, it seems like a matter of time before Zika spreads further.
Zika Prevention Tips
Per the CDC, Protection against mosquito bites is a key measure to prevent Zika virus infection. The CDC recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents with an active ingredient of DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or PMD. If you use a product with DEET as the active ingredient, the CDC recommend a concentration >20%. (Per the CDC, the Cutter Walt Disney World is distributing is a good option.)
“Is DEET safe during pregnancy?” has become a common search query on Google, and the scientific consensus is that it is safe to use during pregnancy. Jenny McCarthy’s opinion on the matter is still unclear, so you might want to hold off if you rely on Playmates for your medical advice. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and CDC, all EPA-registered insect repellents are safe to use, even when pregnant.
In addition to using mosquito-repelling sprays and/or creams, presenting physical barriers to mosquitos is a recommended measure. This can be done by wearing clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, including long-sleeve shirts, hats, and pants. If sleeping outdoors or in a place without air-conditionings, window screens, closing doors, and windows and even sleeping under mosquito nets is recommended.
Those are the risks and the precautions you should take. We are not here to fear monger, so we also want to stress that the likelihood of contracting Zika in Florida is statistically minuscule. Being proactive and taking preventive measures decreases the chances of contracting Zika further. In terms of probability, the likelihood of contracting Zika in the United States is actually slightly below West Nile virus. (To reiterate: both are very unlikely.)
Still, for many pregnant couples, Zika is not worth a roll of the dice. A New England Journal of Medicine study puts the risk of microcephaly in Zika-infected mothers at 0.88 to 13.2%, which is definitely cause for concern.
We expect the presence of Zika in Florida to have an impact on travel to Walt Disney World. Hotel bookings for late August in Miami are down 4.2% year over year, despite being up 1.2% from January through July. Of course, Walt Disney World benefits from being in counties where local outbreaks have not yet occurred.
However, this probably won’t stop people from canceling trips to Walt Disney World. Local Zika spreading throughout Florida (and potentially beyond) seems like an inevitability at this point. If local cases are reported near Walt Disney World, it will likely have a more pronounced impact on bookings than has been the case in Miami. While Zika most significantly affects pregnant women and those planning on becoming pregnant, that’s a decent segment of Walt Disney World’s guest demographic (especially contrasted with Miami).
Additionally, just because the negative affects of Zika are primarily limited to only those who are pregnant or trying those does not mean the general public will realize that. There are already a ton of search results for “canceling Walt Disney World trip because of Zika,” including too many forum threads to count. All things considered, this could be the biggest hit to Walt Disney World’s visitation numbers since attendance dropped 25% in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The media has been treating Zika as a pandemic on par with the Black Death and those make it sound like a HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIFE kind of situation, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that amounts to a high single or low double-digit drop for Disney. (If sensationalism sells, I just want to let you all know that WALT DISNEY WORLD IS CLOSING!!!1!!! For the night, tonight at at 10 p.m.; midnight with Extra Magic Hours.)
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Do you agree or disagree with our take on Zika at Walt Disney World? Have any additional insight or tips? Share any questions or thoughts you have in the comments!