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(Adds study details, airline comments)
By Jeffrey Dastin
Feb 19 Airline bookings to parts of Latin America and the Caribbean have slipped globally since a U.S. public health agency warned pregnant women against travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading, travel data analysis company ForwardKeys said Friday.
Bookings to regions hit by the mosquito-borne virus fell some 3.4 percent from a year ago between Jan. 15, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory, and Feb. 10, the report found.
A move by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Feb. 1 to call the Zika outbreak an international emergency appeared to accelerate the slide, with bookings plunging 10 percent between the WHO announcement and Feb. 10, according to the report.
The study, which analyzed around 14 million daily travel agency transactions made via global ticket distributors, provides early evidence of Zika's potentially broad impact on travel demand to certain Latin American countries.
Before the CDC warning, bookings were up 4.9 percent during December and early January to the same destinations from a year ago, the report said.
Scientists are investigating a potential link between Zika infections of pregnant women and more than 4,000 suspected cases in Brazil of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.
American Airlines Group Inc, which has the widest Latin American network among U.S. peers, on Friday reiterated a late-January comment by its president that it has seen no material change to flight bookings.
Its President Scott Kirby said at the time that identifying bookings lost due to Zika would be difficult because unit revenue already was down some 40 percent to Brazil because of the country's economic crisis.
According to the ForwardKeys study, there were 3 percent fewer bookings made to Brazil between Jan. 15 and Feb. 10 versus a year before.
Tourist hotspots with Zika outbreaks such as Martinique and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw steeper declines at 24 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
"We have to watch (for developments on the virus) because if it really should explode, obviously it will have an effect on all of the Caribbean routes," Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos said in an interview Thursday.
Norwegian is marketing some tickets from New York to Martinique at $49, compared with lows of $79 it sold in the summer. Kjos said the company has yet to see Zika hamper bookings. (Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York and Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Editing by Bernard Orr)