Updated at 5:20pm
IRISH PEOPLE HAVE been warned to be extra cautious when visiting countries affected by the brain-shrinking Zika virus.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan warned pregnant women or women considering becoming pregnant to postpone their travel plans to countries where the virus is most prevalent.
Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, is linked to serious birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil.
In a statement released today, Minister Flanagan said that anyone visiting Central and South America and the Caribbean should take extra precautions.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued travel advisories for 20 countries in response to the ongoing Zika Virus outbreak,” the minister said.
While the risk is low in most cases I would particularly urge pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant to consider postponing their travel to affected areas and to consult with their healthcare provider before they travel.
My department remains in close contact with the HSE and our missions in the Americas in relation to this outbreak and will continue to review our travel advice as appropriate.
Minister Flanagan also advised people to ensure that they take the proper precautions against mosquito bites and secure the necessary vaccinations for the areas that they are travelling to.
The travel warning comes as US scientists today warned that the virus has “explosive pandemic potential”.
Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), Daniel R Lucey and Lawrence O Gostin, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) needs to act immediately to combat the virus.
They said the WHO’s “failure to act decisively cost thousands of lives” during the Ebola crisis, and called on the agency to set up an emergency committee of disease experts.
The scientists said a vaccine might be ready for testing in two years, but it could be 10 years before it is publicly available.
A Danish national is the first European to have tested positive for the virus. He had recently travelled to South and Central America, where thousands of people have been infected.
Zika is rarely fatal, but there has been an exponential rise in cases of a rare birth defect in Brazil thought to be linked to the virus. Microcephaly involves babies being born with smaller than normal heads and brains.
The reports states: “Zika is likely to spread to the United States. The Aedes species mosquito (an aggressive daytime biter) that transmits Zika virus (as well as dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever) occurs worldwide, posing a high risk for global transmission.”
It adds that “significant international spread” is expected by travellers from Brazil to the rest of the Americas, Europe and Asia.
“The global dimensions of Zika are quite clear, with fresh urgency as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro loom.”
Anyone with health concerns can review the advice of the HSE at http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/Vectorborne/Zika/
With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald