Zika virus: 22 countries on the warning list


Zika has not yet been reported in the continental United States except for Hawaii when a brain-damaged baby was born by a mother visiting from Hawaii. Now this virus has been discovered also in Australia.

Australian virologists say the mosquito-borne Zika virus, linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, has already been discovered in Australia in travelers returning from South America.

Key points:

-Zika virus detected in some tourists returning from South America
-Virus has been linked to brain damage in babies in Brazil
-Pregnant women urged to delay travel to areas with outbreaks
-Virologist urges Australia to take threat seriously
-However, for the virus to spread, it would need the right species of mosquito to act as a vector.

So far only one such mosquito is present in Australia — the Aedes aegypti mosquito — which is found only in far north Queensland.

The Australian Foreign ministry is warning for travel to 22 countries affected by the virus, including many in South and Central America, and the Pacific island nation Samoa.

The new travel advice comes in response to a warning by the World Health Organisation that Zika virus is now likely to spread to all countries in South, Central and North America except Canada and Chile.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said in November that Zika was linked to a foetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains.

Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last Friday, more than 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1 to 2 per cent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.