Friday 21 October 2016

Zika virus in UK: Four cases of bug that could harm unborn babies in Britain, health watchdog reveals

A Public Health England official told a committee of MPs that four 'travel-associated' cases of the virus have been detected in this country in the last six weeks

Kate McCann

Published 10/02/2016 | 16:15

Mosquitos affected with the Zika virus are most active during the day.
Mosquitos affected with the Zika virus are most active during the day.

Four cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the UK, Public Health England has said.

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Dr Dilys Morgan told a committee of MPs in Westminster that the four cases were "travel associated" and not thought to have been contracted in Britain.

The infected people have been identified in the last six weeks.

She told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: “We have had seven cases, six associated with the current outbreak in South America, in the past three years.

“We have four of those in 2016 so we are seeing cases coming back. We have raised awareness so people are more aware of the infections.

“We are likely to see more cases.”

The virus is thought to have led to birth defects in unborn children in Brazil which has led to a worldwide warning about the virus from the World Health Organisation.

Zika has relatively unremarkable symptoms including a headache, joint pain, rash and mild fever. But the virus, spread by infected mosquitoes, is thought to cause microcephaly in unborn babies.

Microcephaly leads to children being born with under-developed brains and small heads.

There is currently no vaccine or drug treatment for the virus, which is spreading in areas where the mosquito lives and breeds like South America.

The news came as Jessica Ennis-Hill's coach said British athletes competing in the Olympics in Brazil should not be based in the city because of the risks of contracting the illness.

Dr Morgan told MPs that Public Health England is tracking cases of Zika reported in the UK and offering advice to people who think they may have been affected.

She added: "What we are doing is explaining what we do know and how best people can be protected, reassuring them that there is no risk to the UK population, it is a risk to travellers, of those travellers your risk of acquiring Zika depends on where you are travelling - you are likely to get a very mild illness if you notice anything at all but if you are pregnant then you may be at risk of an abnormal foetus which is obviously devastating.

"We have been trying to communicate those risks and we have been working with the medical profession so that when women do go and want to discuss it with their healthcare providers then they are in a better position of how to advise them."

In total there have been seven cases of the virus reported in the UK, six linked to the outbreak in South America. Dr Morgan added that she "expected to see more cases" of travel- associated infections in the country.

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