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HEALTH

WHO doubles safe sex advice for travellers to Zika regions

People who travel to Zika-hit areas should practise safe sex or have no sex at all for at least eight weeks after their return to avoid sexual transmission of the virus, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

WHO doubles safe sex advice for travellers to Zika regions
Zika is thought to cause birth defects in babies. File photo: Yuri Cortez/AFP

That is double the one month of safe sexual practices previously recommended by the WHO, which explained that new studies showed the Zika virus could survive in sperm longer than previously thought.
   
The recommendation is only for men and women who present no symptoms of the virus, which experts agree is behind a surge in cases in Latin America of microcephaly — a serious birth defect in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains.
   
If the male partner has shown symptoms of Zika, the couple should practise safe sex or abstain for six months, “to ensure that the infection has left the body and the virus will not be passed to… the partner,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters.
   
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid travelling to areas affected by Zika all together, and if their male partner has travelled to such an area, the couple should practise safe sex or abstain for the remainder of the pregnancy, it said.
   
It remains unclear how long the virus can persist in body fluids, but a report issued this month showed the sperm of a man returning to Britain from Cook Island remained positive for the virus 62 days after he first detected symptoms, WHO said.
   
Zika is mainly spread by two species of Aedes mosquito, but has also been shown to transmit through sexual contact.
   
The virus, which also causes the rare but potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome, is mainly spread by two species of Aedes mosquito.
   
But WHO warned on Tuesday that “mounting evidence has shown that sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible and more common than previously assumed”.
   
For people living in areas where Zika is spreading, controlling the spread is obviously more complicated.
   
WHO has recommended that women in these areas delay getting pregnant, and that women who have had unprotected sex and do not wish to become pregnant should have “ready access to emergency contraceptive services and counselling.”
   
Brazil, where the Olympic Games are due to kick off in August, has been especially hard-hit since Zika began spreading in South America last year, with nearly 1,300 babies having been born in that county with irreversible brain damage since then.
   
WHO last week rejected a call from 150 international doctors to change the timing or location of the Rio Games, saying shifting the Games would not substantially alter the risks of Zika spreading globally.

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HEALTH INSURANCE

What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Switzerland’s basic health insurance is among the most expensive in the world, but there are certain services it doesn’t pay for. Here are some of the benefits the scheme won’t cover in full.

What isn't covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian —  is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap, but it is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

It also covers accidents for those who do not have accident insurance through their workplace.

Basically, whatever the doctor orders is covered by KVG / LaMal, at least partially.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

However, there are some treatments the basic insurance won’t pay for.

Experimental treatments

Any experimental treatments or drugs — that is, those not approved by the Swissmedic regulatory agency or the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) will not be covered.

This exclusion is not specifically Swiss; insurance schemes is most countries won’t cover unauthorised medical treatment either.

Dental care

In most cases, services such as teeth cleaning, dental fillings, root canals, tooth extractions, and orthodontic braces, are not included under basic insurance.

The only exceptions, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), are dental interventions “necessitated by a serious disorder of the masticatory system, or if such treatment is required to support and ensure the success of medical treatment for a severe general disorder (e.g. leukaemia, heart-valve replacement)”.

Most dental treatments are not covered. Photo by Pixabay

Eyeglasses and contact lenses

Compulsory health insurance will contribute up to 180 francs per year towards glasses and contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist for children up to the age of 18.

No such benefit exist for adults. However, “in the case of serious visual impairment or certain illnesses (e.g. disease-related refraction abnormalities, postoperative alterations or corneal disease), compulsory health insurance will, regardless of age, make higher contributions towards medically prescribed spectacle and contact lenses”, FOPH says.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Ambulance

Emergency vehicles that transport you to a hospital can be quite expensive — depending on the canton, the costs can range from 900 to 2,000 francs per trip. 

Basic health insurance will contribute a certain amount  to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it is a medical necessity — a serious accident, an illness, or a life-threatening situation. But if the patient could have travelled by private car or public transport, basic health insurance policies will pay nothing.

Insurance will cover some of the cost of ambulance transport only in emergency. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Private hospital room

While the cost of your hospitalisation will be fully covered, the basic insurance does not pay for a private room.

You will be accommodated in a room with other patients.

Depending on a medical facility — whether it’s a small hospital or a large, university medical centre, you could end up with just one other person or possibly four or five, the latter being common in teaching hospitals.

If you insist on a private accommodation, you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Vaccines

Immunisations outlined by FOPH  will be paid for by insurance, as will the Covid vaccine.

Not covered, however, are travel-related vaccinations or preventive measures, such as against yellow fever or malaria.

Treatment abroad

Outside Switzerland, only emergency care is covered  — double the amount that the same treatment would cost in Switzerland.

Usually, basic health insurance will not cover transportation costs back to Switzerland, except in case of emergency, when it will cover 50 percent of the total cost of transportation to the nearest hospital abroad — but no more than 500 francs per year. 

If you only have a basic insurance policy and travel abroad often, especially to the United States, you should take out a travel insurance that will cover you for illness and accidents in foreign countries above and beyond what your Swiss carrier will pay.

And if you want to upgrade your treatment options, consider taking out a supplemental insurance or, if you can afford it, private one.

READ MORE: Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

You can find out more about what KVG / LaMal will and will not cover here.

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