Nunavut Sivuniksavut cancels Costa Rica trip over Zika virus
"A responsibility to our students, their families, and to the staff to make the trips as safe as possible"
A virus carried by mosquitoes — and by sex in at least two recorded instances — around the Americas and into the United States has led to the cancellation of a student trip to Central America.
The spread of the Zika virus, suspected to be the cause of microcephaly (abnormally small head) in newborns as well as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological condition that leads to paralysis, means Nunavut Sivuniksavut students will head to Hawaii for their annual trip.
NS officials said Feb. 4 that the Ottawa-based college program for Nunavut students would “change direction for this year’s student trip to avoid any possible health risks for students and staff due to the Zika virus.”
The 30-plus students in the first-year program at NS had chosen Costa Rica for their 10-day trip this May and they had already begun their fundraising campaign — but Costa Rica is among the more than 25 regions and countries that have now recently reported cases of Zika.
“With the emergence of the Zika virus in Central and South America in recent weeks, however, the board and staff have decided that it would be best to alter course and select a different destination — one that would be both safe and affordable,” said a Feb. 4 news release.
“We have a responsibility to our students, their families, and to the staff to make the trips as safe as possible, so that is always our biggest priority,” said Jesse Unaapiq Mike, the chair of the NS board, in the release.
For that reason, they’ve opted for their second choice: Hawaii.
“NS students have been there twice before, in 2011 and 2015 and have engaged in very successful cultural exchanges with the native Hawaiians,” NS said.
Nunavut’s health department has already issued a travel notice to Nunavummiut planning to travel to South and Central America, the Caribbean, African and Asian countries affected by Zika.
On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared that in the Americas, Zika is a “public health emergency of international concern.”
While the virus poses risks to women while pregnant, health officials in the U.K. have recommended that men use condoms for at least 28 days after travel to Zika-affected areas and that men who have fever, rash and joint pain should avoid having unprotected sex for six months. Men who have visited an area affected by Zika should use condoms if they have sex with a pregnant woman — throughout the pregnancy, say U.S. health officials. That’s to avoid any transmission of Zika through sexual contact.
NS said that, after discussion, students decided to opt for their second choice — Hawaii — as the destination for their annual trip, which is designed to offer NS students the chance to connect with other Indigenous groups.