Zika Outbreak Fairly Likely in Europe Soon: WHO

The overall risk of a Zika virus outbreak across the WHO European Region is low to moderate during late spring and summer, according to a new risk assessment from the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

The overall risk of a Zika virus outbreak across the WHO European Region is low to moderate during late spring and summer, according to a new risk assessment published by the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The risk varies from country to country, said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO's regional director for Europe. "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."

WHO's risk assessment is based on the combination of two factors: the likelihood of Zika virus spread and existing national capacity to prevent or rapidly contain local transmission.

The risk is high in a few geographical areas: the island of Madeira and the northeastern coast of the Black Sea.

For countries with high and moderate likelihood of local Zika virus transmission, WHO recommends:

  • strengthening vector-control activities to prevent the introduction and spread of mosquitoes, and reduce their density (particularly for areas with Aedes aegypti)
  • equipping health professionals to detect local transmission of Zika virus early and to report the first case of local transmission, as well as complications from infections, within 24 hours of diagnosis
  • ensuring that the skills and capacity to test for Zika virus or protocols to ship blood samples abroad are in place
  • encouraging communities to reduce mosquito breeding sites
  • enabling people at risk, especially pregnant women, to protect themselves from infection
  • mitigating the effects of Zika virus and its complications

"We stand ready to support European countries on the ground in case of Zika virus outbreaks," said Dr. Nedret Emiroglu, director of the Communicable Diseases and Health Security Division in the WHO Regional Office for Europe. "Our support to countries in the Region to prepare for and respond to health risks such as Zika is a key aspect of the reform of WHO's work in emergencies."

WHO will convene a regional consultation June 22-24 in Portugal to examine the conclusions of the risk assessment and identify countries' needs, strengths, and gaps in terms of preventing and responding to Zika virus disease.

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