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Spread via bites from the Aedes mosquito, the Zika virus (ZIKV) is rapidly spreading through Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, where the outbreak has reached pandemic levels. As of January 2016, the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have issued travel advice and guidance for those visiting affected countries. There are also specific guidelines for pregnant women, who are open to an increased risk level.
Though the current outbreak began in 2007, it was initially contained within a narrow area between Asia and Africa. Following the spread of the virus across the Pacific Ocean in 2014, the Zika virus reached Central and South America in 2015.
Currently, the dengue fever-related virus cannot be prevented by vaccine or medication. The risks to pregnant women are uncertain, but there are possible links to microcephaly in babies born to women who have contracted the Zika virus during the first trimester of pregnancy. Cases of microcephaly in Brazil have risen from an annual average of 160, to 3,893 reported cases between October 2015 and January 2016*. Pregnant women are warned to be “especially careful,” with recommendations from Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Jamaica for women to delay pregnancy (if possible) until more is known. It is also possible that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted.
The World Health Organisation has stated that the virus is likely to spread further across the Americas, especially in humid areas where the mosquito are able to breed easily, and in areas already affected by dengue fever.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend those travelling to affected areas follow updates and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and particularly those who are pregnant, or have severe chronic illness or immune system disorders. If you are unsure of whether it is safe to travel, please contact a health professional with regard to ongoing outbreaks. If you are pregnant, current advice is to consider avoiding travel to areas where outbreaks of the Zkia virus are ongoing.
*numbers quoted from NTHNC.