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  • Residents hold signs against zika virus during a fumigation to prevent Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases in Lima, Peru, Feb. 5, 2016.

    Residents hold signs against zika virus during a fumigation to prevent Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases in Lima, Peru, Feb. 5, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 February 2016

An opinion poll found that people in the U.S. are increasingly aware of the Zika virus and likely to reconsider travel plans because of the outbreak.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus quickly sweeping across much of Latin America and the Caribbean could be discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling south this vacation season, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released Sunday.

The poll found that 41 percent of people aware of the Zika virus reported being less likely to go on a trip to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of U.S. respondents aware of the disease said it concerned them, including 18 percent who reported being very concerned about Zika.

The poll suggests that the Zika virus could impact tourism traffic and revenue for airlines, agencies, and popular vacation destinations south of the U.S. border. According to Reuters, airlines and cruise ship operators have not yet seen booking decline.

Among those most concerned about travelling to Zika-affected areas include parents-to-be and couples actively trying to have children, responses to the poll indicated.

The latest opinion poll, signaling that the Zika outbreak spreading across Latin America is raising alarm in the U.S. despite only a few cases having been reported in the country, comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women to avoid travel to Zika-affected areas.

While the Zika virus, which causes fever, joint pain, skin rashes, and other symptoms, is usually not considered life threatening, researchers suspect the disease is linked to the birth defect known as microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development. Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of microcephaly in recent months.

However, scientists admit that the Zika virus is not well understood. It is not clear if it actually causes microcephaly, and researchers are still working to understand how the disease is transmitted.

The Zika virus outbreak has recently become an epidemic after first appearing in the Americas in 2014. The World Health Organization declared the situation a public health emergency of international proportions, saying the virus is “spreading explosively” across the Americas. The outbreak is expected to reach all 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the southern United States, impacting some 4 million people.

As the virus spreads, so does awareness. According to the poll, the number of people who have heard of the Zika virus spiked rapidly in less than a month, with nearly two thirds of people now aware of the disease, compared to 45 percent in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in late January.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted Feb. 1-5 among 1,595 U.S. adults.

While U.S. citizens are taking precautions, Latin America is an high alert to stem the spread of the virus. Many cities are fumigating and clearing areas that could be prime mosquito breeding grounds.

Some towns in Brazil and Venezuela have also cancelled popular carnival celebrations out of fear that the virus could spread easily at events. Other cities have opted to go ahead with the festivities but urged party-goers to take precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

Brazil and Colombia are hardest hit so far by the Zika virus.

WATCH: World Health Organisation on Zika Virus

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