Cruise lines began waiving cancellation penalties for some clients booked on cruises to the Caribbean and other regions affected by the Zika virus.
Industry giant Carnival said it would allow pregnant women on voyages that include visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other regions impacted by the fast-spreading virus to switch to an itinerary in unaffected area. Alternately, they can postpone their trip or cancel outright and receive a future cruise credit, the line says.
Norwegian Cruise Line also is allowing pregnant women sailing to affected areas to postpone trips to a later date or switch itineraries, and Royal Caribbean is giving pregnant women alternative options, too.
The lines say the options also are being offered to people traveling with the pregnant passenger.
While posing little risk to most people, Zika is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, health officials have said, citing a link to a birth defect called microcephaly, in which infants are born with small skulls and incomplete brain development.
Transmitted by mosquitos, Zika has been spreading rapidly in recent weeks from South America to Central America and the Caribbean.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta expanded a Zika-related travel alert to include the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.
Issued earlier this month, the CDC alert already encompassed six other Caribbean countries and territories where Zika is spreading: Barbados, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Puerto Rico and St. Martin. The alert recommends pregnant women postpone travel to the destinations.
Also included in the CDC alert are Bolivia; Brazil; Cape Verde; Colombia; Ecuador; El Salvador; French Guiana; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Mexico; Panama; Paraguay; Samoa; Suriname; and Venezuela.
Cruise line stocks have been hit hard over the past days as fear over the impact of the virus on bookings spreads. But cruise line officials say they have had few cancellations so far.
In a research note issued Thursday, Wall Street analyst Tim Conder of Wells Fargo said that even in a worst case scenario where pregnant women and their companions stopped cruising completely, global demand for sailings only would drop by about 6%. And such a worst case scenario is far-fetched, he suggested.
Symptoms of Zika include mild fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, asthenia, weakness and pink eye, which set in three to 12 days after a person is bitten by an infectious mosquito. Symptoms are often mild, lasting two to seven days. Three out of four infected people have no symptoms at all, according to the Pan American Health Organization.