Israel Faces Moderate Chance of Zika Outbreak

Another 17 countries in Europe are at risk of widespread infection due to the presence of the mosquito responsible for the virus' transfer.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites.
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites.Credit: AP

Israel is one of 18 European-region countries in which there is a moderate likelihood of an outbreak of the Zika virus, the World Health Organization said in an assessment published on Wednesday.

The danger is greater in countries where there are Aedes mosquitoes, considered the main cause for the spread of the virus.

The new evidence shows that there is a risk of the spread of Zika in Europe, which varies from country to country. WHO is calling on countries at high risk to act to prevent a widespread outbreak.

The WHO risk assessment is based on two main factors: the probability of an initial outbreak in each country, and the ability of each country to stop the outbreak in its early stages. About 80 percent of the countries are well prepared to do so.

Several factors that could affect the risk of an outbreak: geographical location, climactic conditions and the movement of people from regions that are affected at present. But because the main component in transmission of the virus is the mosquitoes that carry it, the report focuses on countries with the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes or the “Asian tiger Aedes,” which is considered a secondary means of transfer.

According to WHO, 17 countries in Europe, and Israel, are at moderate risk due to the presence of the Asian tiger Aedes, while 36 European countries (66 percent) are at low risk due to their climactic conditions.

On the backdrop of a possible outbreak WHO is instructing professionals, creating an efficient laboratory infrastructure for diagnosing cases of Zika, and providing information to reduce the risk in the community. “Last year the disease was found in Latin American countries, where it spread suddenly and widely,” according to WHO, which estimated that 3 million to 4 million people will be infected by the virus.

The danger of contagion in Israel

In Israel, Health Ministry instructions have focused until now mainly on travelers to or from the affected countries. In February the ministry published instructions to doctors, clinics and hospitals, and travelers. Later it was decided to include “infection from the Zika virus” and “the Zika virus syndrome in newborns” to the list of diseases requiring immediate reporting to the Health Ministry.

The Environmental Protection Ministry is also following reports about Aedes mosquitos and the Zika virus. The ministry said that the Asian tiger mosquito is in fact likely to be a transmitter of the virus in Israel too. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are not found in Israel or in most European countries.

The Zika virus has been known to science for over 60 years, after first being discovered in Uganda. It is usually not particularly harmful, with symptoms including a moderate fever and a rash that disappear in a few days.

The virus’ connection to microcephaly (an abnormally small head) in newborns began last year, when a correlation was found between pregnant women with the virus and cases of microcephaly. Since then studies have proved the connection. Some doctors claim that microcephaly is only one effect of fetal infection with Zika among many neurological problems in newborns.

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