The Zika virus is expected to cross the pond to Europe by this summer, warns the World Health Organization (WHO). The depth and speed in which the virus could spread in Europe are dependent on the Aaedes aegypti mosquito. The insect exists in warmer climates, which is why the Zika virus has spread so rapidly in Central and South America. However, the Asian tiger mosquito of the Aedes albopictus variety can carry the virus and survive in cooler climates, which makes it possible to spread throughout Europe.
The Zika virus is very closely related to dengue and chikungunya; those diseases spread across the pond to Europe, affecting Croatia, and France, in 2010, and Madeira, Portugal in 2012. WHO’s study of how dengue and chikungunya spread in the European region is what provides the indicators of how Zika may also spread in Europe.
However, two-thirds of the European region will likely be unaffected. WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab stated that the risk of the Zika virus will vary from country to country. The European region includes 53 countries with a population close to 900 million. It spans from the Artic Ocean to the Mediterranian Sea, north to south and the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, west to east. WHO says there are 18 countries at moderate risk for a Zika outbreak if no measures are taken to mitigate the risks.
Prevention is the only defense against the virus. There are no vaccines to protect the public from contracting the disease after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Authorities recommend individuals utilize repellant. Governments will need to develop programs to curb mosquito breeding.
WHO issued a recommendation to the European region to control the spread of the Zika virus. They urged the region to do the following:
- Control the mosquito population by involving communities in eliminating breeding sites.
- Plan to utilize insecticides to kill larvae.
- Warn the public of the risks, especially for pregnant women, and help educate the public on how to prevent mosquito bites.
- Enhance research and testing into the virus to discover possible solutions.
The Zika virus can go undetected in many carriers of the disease. Symptoms of the virus are flu-like, in most people who experience any side effects from the mosquito bite. However, the virus can cause severe birth defects when a woman contracts the virus while pregnant. Brazil reported the first baby born affected by the Zika virus, in February 2016. Since then, more children in Brazil have been born with Zika-related birth defects. The Center for Disease Control stated that there are 48 pregnant women in the U.S. infected with the Zika virus. There has been one confirmed birth, of a baby with the Zika virus, in Puerto Rico. There is substantial evidence that the Zika virus can cause a rare neurological disorder that causes temporary paralysis in adults.
The European region of WHO is running continued risk assessments for the area. They believe that most countries throughout Europe will respond quickly to lower the danger of spreading the Zika virus. WHO will be hosting a meeting of European health officials in Portugal, this summer, June 22-24, 2016, to continue to review the threat of the Zika virus.
By Gichele Cocrelle
Edited by Jeanette Smith
NBC News: Zika virus likely to Hit Europe, Too, World Health Organization says
Fox News: Zika virus may spread to Europe in coming months WHO warns
CNN: Zika virus expected in Europe by late spring
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