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by Andrea Doyle | February 05, 2016
While the Zika virus is usually mild and of short duration, it is the responsibility of the incentive planner and the organization's security team to inform attendees of any particular hazards to personal safety and security presented by the destination.  

"While some organizations will move forward with events, general precautions -- wearing long sleeves/pants, staying inside with air conditioning, spraying clothing with repellant, and sleeping with mosquito nets -- can greatly reduce the risk of exposure to Zika," says Susan N. Losurdo, CMP, Global Meeting & Event Management and co-author with Deborah Scholar of Crisis Management Handbook: A Quick Reference Guide for Meeting Planners. "An organization may consider providing preventative items such as repellants and nets upon request and having medical staff onsite.  Alternatively, an organization could offer a hybrid option, where people can attend the event live or online if they are concerned about traveling.  This may be of particular interest to pregnant women who seem to be at the highest risk."

Should an organization feel it necessary to cancel/reschedule/move an event, contract clauses will need to be examined to insure financial protection. Work with hotel chains to move from one hotel to another property within the chain to minimize penalties, advises Losurdo.  

A wealth of information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: cdc.gov/zika/. Here you can find resources like FAQs and fact sheets/posters that an organization would find helpful. These tools can be used to communicate to attendees in preparation for travel and while onsite.  

One of the most important items to have on hand when meeting in areas with Zika is insect repellent containing DEET, as it is extremely effective at keeping mosquitoes away. Make sure such repellent is placed in your group's rooms and included it in your pre-departure packages.

The CDC recommends using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents -- a list can be found on the CDC's Zika page -- as all EPA-registered insect repellents are evaluated for effectiveness. Advise clients to follow the product label instructions on the repellent, reapply as directed several times per day and if also using sunscreen, apply it before the repellent.

Resorts by and large are totally dependent on tourism and most have robust mosquito prevention procedures in place. "People should still participate in events but proceed with caution and make the necessary adjustments," says Dr. Robert L. Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director, Americas Region, International SOS, an organization that provides medical, clinical, and security advice and assistance to organizations with international travelers and/or operations. "It's imperative that participant risk mitigation is taken into consideration." All companies have a Duty of Care, a moral and legal obligation to protect their employees from risks like Zika, he adds

Andrea Gold, president of Tucson, AZ-based Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, and a MeCo moderator has been sharing news reports with the MeCo community (MeetingsCommunity, a Google listserv) to ensure its members are well informed.

"If you are meeting in any country on the Zika list, start looking at registration changes, travel arrangements, cancellations, and room block impacts, for starters. Determine your policies and shore up your risk management in this force majeure type of situation, as it certainly is something out of your control," says Gold. "Most likely some of your fellow staff, attendees, and perhaps speakers, will be challenged by this turn of events to make personal decisions because of Zika--that is, regarding travel and attendance at locations outside the of USA. Also double-check the status of the local staff and vendors, if meeting in areas affected by Zika."

Here are other key best practices for prevention and risk management in the effort to keep your attendees from contracted Zika.

* Facts about prevention and risk controls should be readily available so attendees understand all the nuances of the Zika virus.
* Find out what actions your hotel or resort is taking. Make sure they have screens on all windows and no standing water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, on site. Do they drop nets in the evening?
* Encourage attendees to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
* Unlike mosquitoes that carry malaria that are active in the evening, mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime. Inform participants of this fact.
* Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
* Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
* Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
* Consult your doctor before and after traveling to affected areas for the most up to date counsel.