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The Zika virus could spread to the Mediterranean this summer, holidaymakers have been warned.
Mosquitoes capable of spreading the virus are common in the south of France, Italy and the Spanish coast.
Health officials yesterday urged such countries to act early by killing them before biting season.
The warning from the World Health Organisation came as the NHS banned travellers from giving blood for a month after they returned from a Zika-hit country in an effort to prevent the virus being passed on through transfusions.
The WHO said there was still no need for travel and trade bans, although pregnant women have been urged to think twice about going to Zika-hit countries.
Two people in Ireland were confirmed to be infected after travelling to a country where the virus has spread.
At the same time a state of emergency was declared in four counties in Florida where a total of nine people have been diagnosed with the virus.
The state’s governor, Rick Scott, said: “Although Florida’s current nine Zika cases were travel-related, we have to ensure Florida is prepared and stays ahead of the spread of the Zika virus in our state,” Scott said in a statement today.
“Our Department of Health will continue to be in constant communication with all county health offices, hospitals and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that we must be prepared for the worst even as we hope for the best.”
The WHO has declared a global public health emergency after a big increase in cases of babies born with abnormally small heads in South America, saying there was a “strong suspicion” they were caused by women catching the virus while pregnant.
WHO regional director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said: “The combination of broad geographical distribution of mosquito species that can transmit the virus, the absence of immunity against the virus and lack of both a vaccine and rapid, reliable diagnostic tests raises concerns that zika virus disease will spread globally.”
One species of the Aedes mosquito which spreads the virus is widespread in southern Europe.
Dr Jakab said an outbreak of Zika was a danger when the mosquitoes woke from their winter inactivity. Mosquitoes found in Britain are not thought to be capable of spreading the virus, the Times reported.
“Every European country in which Aedes mosquitoes are present can be at risk for the spread of Zika virus disease,” Dr Jakab said.
“A number of travellers infected with Zika have entered Europe, but the disease has not been transmitted further, as the mosquito is still inactive. With the onset of spring and summer, the risk that Zika virus will spread increases.”
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