Zika Virus And Foreign Ministry
Over the last few weeks, you may have heard about a new pandemic threat involving the Zika virus. Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Unfortunately, many people infected with the virus are unaware that they have contracted it. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) its symptoms can be mild and may involve fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms may last a few days to a week and rarely involve hospitalization.
As of January 28, 2016 the CDC has issued a travel alert for people traveling to regions and countries where Zika is currently being transmitted.
So why are people worried? For one, the virus may cause serious birth defects. Not only that, but there is no vaccine for the virus and there is no cure.
UPDATE 4.14.16 The CDC has confirmed that the virus does cause birth defects.
There have been reports that Zika virus may be connected to a substantial increase in cases of a serious birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly causes a baby’s head to develop smaller than expected when compared to other babies of the same age and size. In addition to microcephaly, there have been other pregnancy-related complications thought to be associated with the virus.
The virus may also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) which is a disorder that can cause a person’s immune system to turn against nerve cells, causing damage and even paralysis.
What doctors and scientists know about the correlation between mosquitos, transmission of the virus, and birth defects is limited at this time. This has prompted officials in Brazil to advise women not to become pregnant.
One problem with the virus is that it is often “silent”. According to Sylvain Aldighieri, who works for the WHO/PAHO in epidemic alert and response, as many as 75 percent of infected patients have no symptoms.
What Are The Risks To Your People And Your Ministry from Zika Virus?
All of this is pretty scary to think about. You might be saying to yourself “Yeah, I know about the risk, but we’ll be OK.” You should still make sure you cover all of your bases when it comes to your ministry’s risk, especially when you consider what could happen to the members of your mission team if they were to contract the virus.
For example, let’s look at a worst-case scenario. In this case, discussed in an article by Richard M. Hammar on his Web site Church Law & Tax, a $42 million dollar settlement was issued against a private secondary school after a student contracted an illness from a tick bite during a school-sponsored trip to China. Before the trip, the student’s parents signed a broadly-worded liability waiver that would release the school from “any and all claims.”
As part of the month-long international program trip, the student was scheduled to visit “Mount Pan” (Mount Panshan) as part of a cultural tour of the city of Tianjin. During the trip to Mount Pan the students hiked through mountainous, forested areas. Prior to the event, the students were not warned they would be hiking through a forest, so they were not properly dressed or prepared for a serious outdoor excursion. Many students were dressed in sandals, shorts, and T-shirts. No one advised the students to apply bug spray before traveling up the mountain. After reaching the top of the mountain, the student was allowed to hike back down the mountain, accompanied by two or three other students and no chaperone. The teachers, chaperones, and the majority of other students rode cable cars back to the bottom of the mountain. During the hike back down, the small group became lost and ventured off the trail – navigating through brush and trees before reuniting with the group.
After the trip to Mount Panshan, the student noticed insect bites and welts, but felt fine other than some itching. Ten days later she woke up with flu-like symptoms and disorientation. She was taken to the hospital where it became apparent she had been bitten by a tick. The student became severely ill and was air-lifted to a U.S.-based hospital for specialized treatment. While she did recover, she was left with permanent paralysis and cognitive issues due to tick-borne encephalitis.
The school attempted to avoid liability due to the fact that the parents had signed a liability waiver, yet the courts ruled that it was too broad in its wording. Here, an average person would not realize the release would free the school of liability for its careless acts. The school knew all the details of the trip and the specifics of associated excursions, but failed to provide them to students and parents, preventing them from taking appropriate precautions.
A key takeaway here is that mistakes in planning and communication can result in an increase of risk to your ministry and not every legal document can adequately protect an organization from liability.
How Can We Protect Your People And Your Ministry from Zika Virus?
First, make sure you talk with your legal counsel to ensure your group knows what it needs to do to reduce its risk as much as possible. You should also check in with your insurance agent to make sure your ministry is protected in the event of a problem.
Many of the mission trips that your church plans to take will leave you way out of your HMO & PPO network. Also, U.S. health insurance policies don’t cover medical expenses incurred in a foreign country. If they do, they reimburse travelers at a lower rate than in the United States, and they seldom cover things like air evacuations, which typically start at $45,000. When it comes to foreign mission trips, insurance coverage specifically covers your church’s foreign liability and medical exposures. If you need help answering questions about your insurance and your travel risk, we can answer them.
Learn more about our special insurance church insurance package for world-wide, foreign ministry travel protection.
Next, be sure your group and their families are aware of the risk of travel, in this case exposure to the Zika virus, as well as how to protect against it.
If your mission involves one of the regions cited by the CDC as having active Zika virus transmission risk, and there are members of your church’s mission group who are pregnant, they should consider postponing travel to that region.
If travel to the region is unavoidable, pregnant women should consult with their doctor prior to travel. They should also strictly follow the CDC’s guide for preventing mosquito bites.
The CDC also advises travelers do the following:
- Use insect repellents
- When used as directed, insect repellents are safe and effective for everyone, including pregnant and nursing women.
- Most insect repellents can be used on children. Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus in children under the age of three years.
- Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide long lasting protection.
- If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the repellent.
- Do not spray insect repellent on the skin under your clothing.
- Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing.
- Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent or sunscreen.
- When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your home or hotel, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
- Help reduce the number of mosquitoes inside and outside your home or hotel room by emptying standing water from containers such as flowerpots or buckets.
As your church prepares for 2016’s foreign ministry travel season it’s important to be aware of the risk for communicable disease. Make sure your team follows the tips set by the CDC as well as those set by officials in your destination country.
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