Zika virus which was first sighted in Brazil last year, 2015, is expected to spread in Europe within the next few months, a World Health Organisation assessment reports.
This comes few months after the WHO declared a global health emergency over the Zika virus in February, 2016.
The mosquito-borne virus which has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect marked by unusually small head size has been detected in more than fifty countries.
WHO Europe, which made the assessment, said although it has classified the risk of an outbreak at low to moderate, the risk should not be underestimated.
The report stated that the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which are responsible for most of the Zika infections were dominant in the island of Madeira and the Black Sea coast of Russia and Georgia.
It added that the risk is still considered moderate in eighteen countries where a different mosquito, Aedes albopictus, breeds.
Although the Aedes albopictus mosquito doesn’t spread the virus as much as Aedes aegypti, lab experiments have shown the albopictus breed is a prime transmitter of the virus in Africa and Mexico.
Countries with moderate outbreak risk of the virus include, France, which tops the list on most likely countries to have an outbreak because of factors including the density of its urban population.
France is followed by Italy, Malta, Croatia, Israel, Spain, Monaco, San Marino, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Georgia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
The risk in the UK is low because the capacity of countries in Europe to respond efficiently and fast in controlling the virus is high thereby making the Europe-wide risk as low to moderate.
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said, “The new evidence published today tells us that there is a risk of spread of Zika virus disease in the European region and that this risk varies from country to country.
With this risk assessment, we at WHO want to inform and target preparedness work in each European country based on its level of risk. We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak.”
Dr Nedret Emiroglu, head of WHO Europe’s division of communicable diseases and health security urged countries with high or moderate risk to take stronger measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Certain measures that can control the virus include, getting rid of pooled water that can form a breeding ground, training and equipping health professionals to detect Zika infection and report it within 24 hours and enabling pregnant women to protect themselves from infection, including through sexual transmission.