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New advice for travellers returning from Zika-affected zones

09 September 2016 08:00

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, known to be a carrier of the Zika virus.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, known to be a carrier of the Zika virus.

People travelling to regions affected by the Zika virus outbreak should practise safe sex for at least half a year upon their return, health leaders say.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is issuing new guidance to travellers, extending the period of time for which they should practise safe sex or abstinence to avoid passing on the virus through sexual transmission.

Public health emergency

The new advice for holidaymakers and travellers stands whether or not they are trying to get pregnant.

It has also issued to both men and women, whether they show symptoms or not.

After beginning in Brazil last year, the current epidemic has since spread to the Caribbean, other parts of Central and South America, Oceania - Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia - and some parts of Asia.

Zika infections in pregnant women are shown to cause microcephaly - a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized - as well as other brain abnormalities.

The virus is deemed as public health emergency of international concern by WHO.

Zika is spread in bodily fluids and t he main risk of catching the disease is from infected mosquitoes via bites.

British cases

The mosquito that transmits the virus is not found in the UK so risk to the wider British public is deemed to be "negligible" by health leaders.

But so far more than 150 British travellers are identified as having being infected with the virus.

Some 156 travel-associated cases have been diagnosed in the UK since 2015.

The majority of cases (106) are associated with travel to the Caribbean, according to figures from Public Health England.

The largest number report travelling to Jamaica, followed by Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Meanwhile, 33 cases are being linked to travel to South America.

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said: "Public Health England is monitoring the international situation closely and the risk to the UK remains very low.

"We are reviewing the updated WHO recommendations alongside existing evidence, and will make appropriate changes to our advice if necessary."

Travel insurance will help provide cover if medical treatment is needed while travelling abroad.