CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-JetBlue joins list of airlines refunding travel to Zika-hit areas
(Corrects day of week to Thursday in first paragraph)
Jan 28 (Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp will refund customers with tickets to areas impacted by the Zika virus or let them rebook flights, a spokesman said on Thursday.
New York-based JetBlue, a top player in Caribbean travel, is the latest in a string of airlines - from United Continental Holdings Inc to Latam Airlines Group SA - to refund vacationers planning to travel to regions impacted by the mosquito-borne virus.
The World Health Organization has warned that Zika, which has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil, is likely to spread to most of the Americas.
"We believe there could be a slowdown in bookings during this time of heightened media coverage and general fear until more information is known," airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co said in a research note on Thursday.
However, speaking in terms of the impact of the disease on airlines' performance, she added, "We do not view this virus on the same level as the Ebola outbreak in late 2014 or SARS in 2003 ... We would view a decline in shares as a result of the Zika virus as a buying opportunity."
Zika, a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya, causes rash, mild fever and red eyes. Some 80 percent of those infected typically do not have symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to determine if they have the virus. No vaccine or treatment is currently available. (Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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