Following the declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the disease is a global emergency, there are now four confirmed cases of the Zika virus – mosquito-borne virus associated with brain damaged babies in Latin America – in the United Kingdom in the last six weeks.
Addressing a parliamentary committee, Public Health England’s Dr Dilys Morgan, who warned that the number is likely to rise, disclosed that all four cases were “travel associated” and not transmitted in Britain.
Morgan, who is the head of the department of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic infections at PHE, disclosed that the rise would be partly a result of the publicity about the virus spreading across Latin America, which has been linked to cases of brain deformity in babies.
She told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: “We have had seven cases, six associated with the current outbreak in South America, in the past three years.
“We have four of those in 2016 so we are seeing cases coming back. We have raised awareness so people are more aware of the infections.
“We are likely to see more cases.”
When asked what advice are given to patients who have travelled to affected countries, she said:
“We are dealing with these cases all the time, it very much depends on where the woman has been, what the woman has done, has she gone to an area of high transmission where there have been lots of cases reported? I think there is a gradation of the risk which we can give.
“I don’t feel we should be worrying these women too much when not every foetus will be affected, we don’t know what the proportion is but we know it is probably low looking at the numbers so I think there are various reassurances we can give, but what we shouldn’t do is give reassurances about the evidence.
She added: “What we are doing is explaining what we do know and how best people can be protected, reassuring them that there is no risk to the UK population.
“Your risk of acquiring Zika depends on where you are travelling – you are likely to get a very mild illness if you notice anything at all but if you are pregnant then you may be at risk of an abnormal foetus which is obviously devastating.
“We have been working with the medical profession so that when women do go and want to discuss it with their healthcare providers then they are in a better position of how to advise them.”
The Zika virus is linked with the birth defect microcephaly, which sees children born with abnormally small brains, along with a neurological syndrome which can cause paralysis.
The disease has spread across South and Central America with a handful of cases being reported in the UK, US and Germany.
The Mirror gathered that China had also confirmed its first case of the Zika virus.
It was learnt that the existing diagnostic tests for the Zika virus only works when people have the infection, which lasts no longer than a week. After that, scientists will look for antibodies that the body makes to defend against the virus, but it is hard to distinguish those caused by Zika from those caused by dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever, all viruses are from the same family.