The World Health Organisation has said the Zika virus, an infectious disease linked to severe birth defects in babies, may spread into Europe within the next few months.
The mosquito-borne virus, which was first seen in Brazil last year, has been detected in more than 50 countries and has been linked to thousands of cases.
In its first assessment of the threat Zika poses to the region, the World Health Organization’s European office said the overall risk was small to moderate. It is highest in areas where Aedes mosquitoes thrive, in particular on the island of Madeira and the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea.
“There is a risk of spread of Zika virus disease in the European Region and … this risk varies from country to country, said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe.
“We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak.”
WHO based its assessment of how well countries would respond on their answers to a questionnaire. The results suggested that 79% – 41 states out of 51 in the European region plus Lichtenstein – have good or very good capacity although on specific issues there was substantial variation.
Russia and Georgia already deal with mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, said WHO officials.
Asked whether they were engaging with WHO on the issue of Zika, Dr Nedret Emiroglu, who heads WHO Europe’s division of communicable diseases and health security, said: “We are in close touch with them.” they and Madeira have been invited to a meeting in Portugal in June to discuss the control of Zika across the region.
Countries with a high or moderate risk are being urged to take stronger measures to stop the spread of mosquitoes and reduce their numbers, including encouraging communities to get rid of pooled water that can form a breeding ground.
Health professionals should be trained and equipped to detect Zika infection and report it within 24 hours.
Pregnant women should be enabled to protect themselves from infection, including through sexual transmission.
Recall that in February, the WHO declared a global health emergency over the Zika virus.