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Zika virus hits Europe: answers to all questions



The first three cases of native Zika virus in southern France have been confirmed. Three infected people have not gone to any country where Zika is known to be endemic, said the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC). This means that the incident was first detected in Europe when the Zika virus was not associated with travelers carrying an infection from another continent.

In confirmation, some experts warn that climate change will continue to cause more cases to spread across the continent. Researchers at the University of Oxford say that Zika and other tropical diseases can develop as temperatures rise in Europe.

For most travelers visiting France or other countries where the Zika virus is active, the risk of severe infection is low. And with the right precautions, even the most vulnerable tourists can reduce their exposure to the virus.

What is Zika?

Zika virus is now transmitted by the tiger mosquito.

Zika virus is now transmitted by the tiger mosquito.

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection that is transmitted to humans mainly by the infected mosquito Aedes aegypti (yellow fever). However, it is believed that local cases of Zika infection in France have spread through another type of mosquito, commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito. The virus can also be transmitted by sharing body fluid between people. According to ECDC, the Zika virus can cause serious birth defects in unborn babies if mothers are infected during pregnancy.

Which countries have Zika?

The first cases of native Ziki in Europe were confirmed in Hyeres on the French Riviera. Since 2015, almost 2,500 Zika cases have been detected in Europe, but all these infections have been detected and brought by tourists visiting other continents. For the first time, a European country has the risk of acquiring Zika locally.

However, compared to the Zika epidemic that started in 2015, Zika's global risk is lower than before. If you are planning a trip to a place where Zika is suspected or if you are not sure if an infection is active at your location, visit this map to see current risk levels. You can also use it to search for specific destinations and get information about the country you plan to visit.

Who is at risk?

Pregnant women and their unborn children are most at risk from the Zika virus, because the infection can cause serious birth defects.

Pregnant women and their unborn children are most at risk from the Zika virus, because the infection can cause serious birth defects.

Zika virus can attack anyone, regardless of gender and age. Most infected people do not know that they have them. This is most dangerous for pregnant women because of the harmfulness of the virus to the unborn child.

There have also been a few rare cases of both pregnant and non-pregnant women with the Zika virus that develops Guillian-Barre syndrome, a rapid muscle weakness which can also be serious.

What are the symptoms?

According to the World Health Organization, there are usually very few symptoms, and only 20 percent of people get the virus. Those who have symptoms will experience one or more of the following:

  • Mild fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Painful or irritated eyes
  • General flu-like symptoms

Is it curable?

However, there are currently no cure for Zika compared to other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. This is a low risk infection for most travelers and no treatment is usually required. Most infected patients will not know that they have become infected with the Zika virus and very rarely cause serious complications. The main treatment for people with symptoms is simple rest, hydration and painkillers.

Why is that dangerous?

Zika virus is mainly dangerous for pregnant women. This is due to the impact it may have on the unborn child. It can lead to microcephaly, a neurological disorder that causes children to be born with abnormally small heads, which can cause serious developmental problems, often life-threatening. Zika can also cause other problems for babies, including eye problems and hearing loss.

How to avoid Zika virus infection?

Travelers should sleep under a mosquito net in the high-risk Zika countries. Courtesy of flickr

Travelers should sleep under a mosquito net in the high-risk Zika countries. Courtesy of flickr

If you're traveling to a country where Zika is active, you should take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites. "Mosquitoes that spread the Zika virus are active mainly during the day until dusk, so make sure you apply insect repellent to sunscreen and wear loose clothing that covers your arms and legs as much as possible. If you are taking a nap during the day, travelers should take care of the mosquito net to avoid being bitten, "says Dr. Teeb Al-Awadi, Family Medicine Consultant at the Medcare Motor City Medical Center in Dubai.

Pregnant women should strictly follow this advice. It is also important to stay in hotels with air conditioning and mosquito nets on windows or doors. Do not stay in a hotel that is next to fixed water pools, as mosquitoes usually bloom.

What should I do if I get bitten?

Dr. Al-Awadi from the Medcare Motor City Medical Center in Dubai provides preventive advice to people traveling to countries where Zika is active. Courtesy of Medcare

Dr. Al-Awadi from the Medcare Motor City Medical Center in Dubai provides preventive advice to people traveling to countries where Zika is active. Courtesy of Medcare

If you are bitten by a mosquito in a high-risk area, you should carefully monitor your symptoms. Even if you do not feel sick, if you return from the area with Zika virus, you should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks after returning, so as not to accidentally spread Zika to uninfected mosquitoes. If a mosquito bites a person while he or she has the Zika virus in the blood, the mosquito can get infected and then infect other people.

If you are pregnant or become pregnant shortly after a mosquito bite in the Zika risk zone, tell your doctor as soon as possible. "As a precaution, couples traveling to Zika virus areas should avoid conception for up to three months after returning from Zika virus areas," says Dr. Al-Awadi.

Updated: 11 November 2019 13:06


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