The Zika virus could spread to parts of Europe this summer, with areas around the Black Sea and the island of Madeira being the most likely locations. The overall risk of a Zika outbreak in Europe is still thought by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be ‘low to moderate’, though some regions have a high likelihood of local Zika virus transmission. These are places that already play host to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main transmitter of the virus.
Zika virus disease is mild and most of those infected do not exhibit symptoms. Those who do may experience a mild fever, skin rashes or headaches over around two to seven days. However there is a growing scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of some neurological disorders including Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, and microcephaly, whereby babies born to women who are infected with Zika while pregnant have abnormally small heads.
Although the UK is not likely to be affected, 18 countries in Europe stand at a moderate likelihood of local Zika virus transmission. These include, in order of highest to lowest likelihood, France, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Turkey and Greece. The WHO is calling on countries at risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritise activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak. These include attempts to control the mosquitos that carry the disease to prevent their introduction and spread, and ensuring that health professionals are well equipped to detect and report Zika virus cases.
The WHO will convene a regional consultation in Portugal on 22nd – 24th June to consider the risks and identify countries’ needs, strengths and gaps in relation to preventing and responding to Zika virus disease.
Image credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim