European getaways face Zika virus risk
Published 19/05/2016 | 02:30
Popular European summer getaways for Irish holidaymakers are at risk of suffering outbreaks of the Zika virus in the coming months.
The virus, first seen in Brazil, is spread by mosquitoes and is linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly, a birth defect, posing a risk to pregnant women.
A report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) said 18 countries, around a third of Europe, are at "moderate" risk of an outbreak as summer temperatures soar.
France is most likely to have an outbreak followed by Italy, Malta, Croatia, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Portugal, and Bulgaria.
Ireland, the UK and countries in northern Europe are considered to be at very low risk.
The report is based on the likelihood of the virus spreading if nothing is done by individual countries at moderate risk to stop it.
The risk is highest on the island of Madeira and the Black Sea coast of Russia and Georgia, where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes responsible for most of the infections are indigenous.
But a different breed of the Aedes mosquito threatens popular holiday hotspots - even though it is not as powerful in the spread of the disease.
A woman who is pregnant or who could get pregnant, who gets bitten by the mosquito, risks having a baby with a birth defect.
This is marked by an abnormally small head, and is associated with abnormal brain development.
Up to now the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland has advised women who are pregnant to postpone non-essential travel to affected regions in the Pacific, South and Central America and the Caribbean.
Asked to comment on the WHO report yesterday, Prof Sam McConkey, of the Department of International Health & Tropical Medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons, said it is important to remember that no case of the Zika virus has been spread in Europe so far.
He said it was premature for Irish people to cancel holidays to areas which could potentially be affected.
"We will have to see as the weeks go on, if it is spreading by mosquitoes in holiday destinations.
"The WHO report gives a numerical score of the risks of Zika. The risk is more of a possibility in the hot and more tropical areas. The hottest time is July and August."
He advised people to be alert to information about these areas as the summer progresses.
"Its unpredictable. It's all new. It may never come to France."
He said it is important to keep the risk in proportion.
"There are around 200 people killed in Ireland on the roads.
"You react to the risks which are the biggest problem."
He added: "You have to give a different level of weight to risks that might happen in the future, otherwise it could lead to absurd levels of precaution."