Zika Virus threatens pregnant women in 23 countries

Roisin Kelly-Goldsmith

Friday 29 January 2016

The World Health Organisation has called an emergency meeting to address the dangerous Zika Virus that spread to 23 countries via infected mosquitoes.

Zika Virus threatens pregnant women in 27 countries

At the WHO Geneva headquarters on Thursday, Director General Margaret Chan spoke of the alarming rate the virus has travelled which has prompted urgent action.

“The level of alarm is extremely high,” she said.

“The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika, from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.”

Chan described the history of the virus which was first isolated in 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda, known for predominantly nestling across the equatorial belt and affecting monkeys only. But since 2007 there have been numerous outbreaks in nearby countries when mosquitoes started to carry a combination of the Zika and Dengue virus. 

“Arrival of the virus in some places has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome,” said Director General Chan. 

“Moreover, conditions associated with this year’s El Nino weather pattern are expected to increase mosquito populations greatly in many areas.”

In the meantime, the World Health Organisation is building scientific labs to detect the virus and working with countries to eliminate mosquito populations. A treatment or cure has not been established for it as yet.

So what does this mean for Australian travellers, and in particular the pregnant women Zika Virus threatens most? The Australian Government website Smart Traveller created a new advice page for travellers concerned.

“We advise travellers, particularly pregnant women, to be aware of the areas of ongoing transmission. Australians residing in or travelling to these regions should subscribe to this bulletin and relevant travel advisory updates to stay informed,” it read.

Smart Traveller recommended Australians travelling in affected regions to subscribe to its alert updates, register travel plans and get the right travel insurance.

For a full list of travel insurance providers, Australians can visit Mozo’s insurance hub to compare options. 

Countries among the 23 affected by the outbreak include Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

<<Update>> A report has been uncovered with evidence of an Australian man contracting the Zika Virus last year. He was bitten by a monkey while on holiday in South-East Asia. 

This comes as experts are trying to determine if there have been missed cases of infected people returning from countries where the Zika Virus is present. 

Tips to prevent catching the Zika Virus if you are in an at-risk or affected country:

- Cover your arms and legs with long sleeve tops and full length trousers

- Stay in air-conditioned rooms and keep away from outdoor water catchments

- Place a mosquito net over your bed at night

- Wear a strong repellent and use Permethrin treated clothing 

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