The World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on February 1st, 2016. So how worried should we be about mosquitoes carrying the virus making their way to the UK, and spreading the virus here?
There is little chance that the mosquitoes will make their way to the UK during the winter months but there is some risk, albeit small, that the spring and summer could see the survival of some of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in warmer areas of southern Europe. The European Centre for Disease Prevention notes that this breed of mosquito has re-colonised Madeira and parts of Southern Russia and Georgia. It has been seen as far north as the Netherlands. 'There are no climatic reasons why Ae. aegypti, if introduced into Europe, could not survive across southern Europe,' according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
But, the reality is that the mosquitoes are unlikely to thrive in the cold, damp climate of the UK.
Human to human transmission
Whilst it is impossible to entirely eradicate mosquitoes - and it has been tried - it is possible to protect yourself from transmission with insect repellent and by covering up. The worry with Zika is that there is evidence emerging that the virus is being transmitted via person-to-person contact, and not just via the mosquito route.
South American countries are trying to fight the disease by releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to kill of the population. But since some people believe that a genetic modification to the mosquito actually caused the Zika virus, this approach is controversial. Eliminating the mosquito breeding spots and controlling mosquito populations by spraying insecticide is the best route to help prevent the spread.
In the UK, the biggest threat to us is in catching the virus through direct physical contact with a carrier. The disease itself is seldom life threatening, but the risk to unborn babies is extremely concerning. The best advice at present is to avoid travelling to affected areas if you are pregnant, or expecting a baby. If you cannot avoid travel, make sure you stay covered up as much as possible during the day, when the mosquitoes are most active, and use an insect repellent. Symptoms of the virus are fever, conjunctivitis, and joint pain.
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