24th January, 2016
Three travellers who returned to the UK from South and Central America have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that has been linked to brain deformities in babies.
Public Health England said in a statement on its website the three people had presented with the virus after travelling to Colombia, Suriname and Guyana, all countries which are experiencing Zika outbreaks.
The statement said Zika “does not occur naturally in the UK” and said it can be transmitted only from the bite of a mosquito or, in rare cases “through sexual transmission or by transmission from mother to foetus via the placenta”.
It does “not spread directly from person to person”, the statement said.
The three cases are believed to be the first to be confirmed inside the country.
US warned pregnant women against travel to 22 countries that are experiencing Zika outbreaks, most in Latin America and the Caribbean.
While the symptoms of Zika itself tend to be mild – they include joint pain and a rash – scientists believe it is linked to microcephaly, or abnormally small brains, in newborns. As a result, authorities in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador have advised women against becoming pregnant during the outbreak.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that was first isolated from a monkey in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947. The first outbreak outside of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands only occurred in May 2015, when a case was reported in Brazil. Since then the disease has spread to 18 other countries in south and central America and the Caribbean.
There is no vaccine to combat Zika, meaning the only way for travellers to protect themselves is to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito.