The Zika Virus over-shadowing major sports events

By Emma Drew

August 4, 2016

The Zika Virus over-shadowing major sports events

The Zika virus surrounding the news headlines recently has clouded the final preparations of a major sporting event taking place in Brazil, with many athletes concerned for their health, with some undecided on whether to pull out of the tournament altogether. 

The International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association, in discussion with The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the country as a safe place to visit despite the fears regarding the Zika virus becoming an international concern.

Clusters of the virus have been reported in areas such as El Salvador, Brazil, and French Polynesia. Reports of a senior neurological condition that can lead to paralysis have also risen in affected areas caused by the Virus.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947, but human outbreaks have only recently been discovered. It is a disease transmitted primarily through mosquito bites and has the potential to reach pandemic levels, according to reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO).


There is currently no vaccination to cure the Zika virus. Once a person is infected, the incubation period for the virus is approximately 3-12 days. However, Hospitalization and death is rare.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Arthralgia
  • Conjunctivitis

Every effort needs to be made to manage the exposures related to the virus, especially amongst pregnant women.  A mother already infected with the Zika virus can pass the virus onto her new born around the time of birth.

There has also been an associated increase of microcephaly, a congenital condition linked with incomplete brain development in new born babies. Women returning from affected countries have been advised to postpone becoming pregnant for at least one month after they return home and pregnant women who have recently travelled to an affected area should seek medical evaluation because perinatal transmission of the Zika virus has been known to cause poor foetal outcomes.

Transmitting the virus

The disease is most commonly transmitted through mosquito bites when they feed off a person already infected with the virus. Mosquitos can bite people at any time as they reside indoors as well as outdoors and most commonly bite at night.

The virus can also be spread through sexual transmission and in one case the virus was spread a few days before symptoms developed. At present there have been no confirmed reports of the virus being transmitted through blood transfusion, although multiple cases have been reported in Brazil, which are currently being investigated and incidents were also reported during the French Polynesia outbreak where 2.8% of blood donors tested positive for the Zika virus.

Insurance cover for Zika

As an employer, if your employees are due to spend a short period of time in a country where there is a known risk of exposure to the virus, it is necessary to purchase a Foreign Voluntary Worker’s Compensation policy that covers endemic disease.

The Foreign Voluntary Worker’s Compensation (FVWC) provides coverage for injuries resulting from an indigenous disease declaration to which an employee is exposed to while abroad for work purposes. For those in association with the British Travel Accident (BTA), employers should note that there may be limitations or exclusions for exposure to the Zika virus. In addition, employees need to be fully informed about the risks of the Zika virus prior to accepting any overseas work opportunities.

Employers liability could come into action if a pregnant employee is sent to an affected country and contracts the Zika virus. However, claims for birth defects or other injuries to new-born’s may present coverage challenges under Worker’s Compensation but could fall within the scope of the Employer’s General Liability cover. Incidents and injuries related to the Zika virus may present multiple challenges for risk and claims management insurers and employers will need to review their polices carefully and adjust or amend coverage as necessary.

How can we help?

For more information on the issues raised in this article or to discuss your travel insurance requirements please contact us on 0121 698 8000.

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