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Zika virus: travel advice for pregnant women

PHE and the National Travel Health Network and Centre are advising pregnant women to consider delaying travel to countries with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks.

Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) are aware of a Zika virus outbreak in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

In October 2015, the Brazilian Ministry of Health reported an unusual increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly (a smaller head than expected which can be due to abnormal brain development) and has suggested a possible link between the increase in microcephaly and the ongoing Zika virus outbreak.

PHE and NaTHNaC have been carefully monitoring this situation and as a precaution, travel advice for pregnant women has been updated.

Whilst it remains important for travellers to take the necessary precautions, PHE is stressing that any public health risk to the wider population in England is negligible, as the mosquito that transmits the virus is not found in the UK.

Dr Dipti Patel, director at NaTHNaC said:

All travellers, especially pregnant women going to an area with active Zika virus transmission should ensure they seek travel health advice from their GP or a travel clinic well in advance of their trip and consult the NaTHNaC website for up to date information on current outbreaks and country information.

We strongly advise all travellers to avoid mosquito bites and urge pregnant women to consider avoiding travel to areas reporting active Zika transmission. If travel to these areas is unavoidable, or they live in areas where Zika virus transmission is occurring, they should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures both during daytime and nighttime hours.

Women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider to assess the risk of infection with Zika virus and receive advice on mosquito bite avoidance measures. Tailored advice for pregnancy and travel is available at NaTHNaC’s website.”

Dr Hilary Kirkbride, travel and migrant health expert at PHE said:

While we may expect to see small numbers of Zika virus infections in travellers returning to the UK, the risk to the wider population is negligible as the mosquito is not found in the UK and the virus cannot be caught from coming into contact with an infected person.

If you are planning on travelling to any of the infected countries, seek advice from a health professional if you have any questions or concerns.

Since the start of the outbreak in 2015, 5 UK travellers have been diagnosed with Zika virus.

If you have recently returned from an area where active Zika transmission is currently reported and have a fever or flu-like illness, seek medical attention without delay to exclude malaria and mention your travel history. If you are pregnant, seek advice from your GP or midwife as you may require further monitoring.”

The symptoms of Zika virus are similar to other mosquito-borne infections such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria so laboratory testing is essential for the correct diagnosis. Zika virus is generally mild and self-limiting, lasting 2 to 7 days.

Symptoms of Zika virus infection may include:

  • fever
  • joint pain
  • itching
  • rash
  • conjunctivitis or red eyes
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • eye pain​

No specific anti-viral treatment is available for Zika virus infection.

PHE is proactively monitoring the risks from Zika virus and is working with government and NHS colleagues to ensure the UK remains alert to, and prepared for, cases returning with Zika virus infection.

Background information

  1. In addition to the 5 cases of Zika virus diagnosed in UK travellers as part of this outbreak, there has only been one additional case of Zika virus infection diagnosed in the UK to date. This case was diagnosed in 2014 following travel to the Cook Islands and is not part of the ongoing outbreak in South and Central America and the Caribbean.
  2. Almost 1.4 million UK residents travelled to South and Central America and the Caribbean on average each year between 2010 and 2014.
  3. For more information about Zika virus see the Public Health England (PHE) or NaTHNaC websites. Some common questions and answers are on NHS Choices.

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