What is the Zika virus and is Britain at risk?

The virus can cause birth defects

US scientists are warning the Zika virus has potential to be an “explosive pandemic”.

In a medical journal, the scientists called for the World Health Organisation to take urgent action on Zika which has so far infected thousands of people, mostly in South America.

But what is it and is Britain at risk?

What is it?

Zika is a virus that causes flu-like symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), headache, muscle pain and eye pain.

It’s relatively harmless in most people; however, the danger comes from pregnant women contracting the infection, as it can cause birth defects.

It can be diagnosed by a blood test and though there is no direct treatment, drinking water and taking paracetamol helps relieve the symptoms.

The virus spreads through mosquito bites and has affected thousands of people in Brazil, where the country’s President Dilma Roussef has called for unity in Latin America to combat Zika.

Pregnant women are being advised to take precautions, including wearing insect repellent and loose clothing on the arms and legs.

Zika infographic

Is Britain at risk?

There have been three recorded cases of Zika in British nationals – all who contracted the virus while abroad.

The mosquitos which carry the virus (Aedes Aegypti) do not normally live in the UK, however there have been sightings on the Kent coast and in West Sussex.

The virus is also thought to be spread through sex. An American doctor contracted the infection in Senegal and then passed it on to his wife, who had never left the US.

However, as it stands, the UK is currently a low-risk country and nobody has been infected while on UK soil.

 

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