World Health Organisation(WHO) has said that Zika virus is expected to spread in Europe within the next few months, although it has classified the risk of an outbreak at low to moderate.
The mosquito-borne virus which began a viral spread last year in Brazil and has been detected in more than 50 countries. It has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect marked by unusually small sized heads.
WHO Europe, which made the assessment, said the risk should not be underestimated. It is highest on the island of Madeira and the Black Sea coast of Russia and Georgia, where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are responsible for most of the infections are indigenous.
The risk is still considered moderate in 18 countries where a different mosquito, Aedes albopictus, breeds. Although this mosquito is not as efficient at spreading the virus as Aedes aegypti, it has been shown to be a potential transmitter of the virus in Africa, Mexico and in lab experiments.
France is the most likely place to have a Zika outbreak among those countries with a moderate risk, because of factors which include the density of its urban population, WHO Europe said.
It is followed by Italy, Malta, Croatia, Israel, Spain, Monaco, San Marino, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Georgia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The risk in the UK is low.
Thus, countries with high or moderate risk are being urged to take stronger measures to stop the spread of mosquitoes and reduce their numbers, including encouraging communities to get rid of pooled water that can form a breeding ground.
Health professionals should be trained and equipped to detect Zika infection and report it within 24 hours. Pregnant women should be enabled to protect themselves from infection, including through sexual transmission.