Europe’s first case of the sexually transmitted Zika virus has been recorded in France, where a woman has been infected after her partner returned from Brazil.
Experts believe babies born to mothers infected with Zika while pregnant are susceptible to microcephaly, a congenital condition that causes abnormally small heads and hampers brain development.
Touraine, who was on a visit to French Guiana, said the case was recorded in the Paris area. “She showed classic signs of the disease,” an official said. “She was not hospitalised and is doing well.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says up to 46 countries have reported some level of evidence of Zika infection and that 130 countries are home to theAedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus, meaning the eventual spread of the disease could be widespread and rapid.
Denmark, Germany and Britain have all reported cases of the disease in tourists returning from affected areas. Zika virus is not deemed a notifiable disease by the EU and so countries are not required to report cases to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, so the accuracy of reporting of cases is variable.
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The case in Paris is the first publicly reported case of transmission in Europe, where the spread of the disease is lessened because mosquitos are inactive in winter.
However, the WHO warned earlier this month that European nations should prepare for the possibility that the disease will spread in the warmer months.
“Every European country in which Aedes mosquitos are present can be at risk for the spread of Zika virus disease,” WHO Europe chief Zsuzsanna Jakab said a fortnight ago. “With the onset of spring and summer, the risk that Zika virus will spread increases.”
The mosquito that transmits the virus is not found in the UK, and Public Health England has said that if a person acquires Zika abroad and becomes ill on their return to Britain, any public health risk to the wider population is negligible.
A total of eight cases has been diagnosed in UK travellers since 2014 in tourists travelling from countries including Barbados, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Mexico. Almost all cases of Zika are acquired via mosquito bites, and only a small number of cases have been recorded as sexually transmitted.
Brazil has been the hardest-hit country, with 1.5m cases of active Zika transmission.
There is currently no cure or vaccine against Zika and the majority of people infected have no symptoms. For those who do feel unwell, typical symptoms include fever, joint pain, red eyes or conjunctivitis, headaches and sometimes an itchy rash.