Zika virus found in more tourists returning to Europe from Latin America

Workers fumigating the Sambadrome ahead of carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Tuesday. Epidemiologists warn that the Rio Carnival could serve as a catalyst for spreading Zika as tourists gather in cities during the peak breeding seas
Workers fumigating the Sambadrome ahead of carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Tuesday. Epidemiologists warn that the Rio Carnival could serve as a catalyst for spreading Zika as tourists gather in cities during the peak breeding season for mosquitoes.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

COPENHAGEN • Denmark and Switzerland yesterday joined a growing number of European countries to report Zika infections in tourists returning from Latin America, where the mosquito-borne virus has been blamed for a surge in birth defects.

This came as United States President Barack Obama called on Tuesday for the rapid development of tests, vaccines and treatments to fight the virus, which could spread to the US in warmer months.

US health officials are stepping up efforts to study the link between Zika virus infections and birth defects, citing a recent study estimating that the virus could reach regions where 60 per cent of the US population lives.

 

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Zika, a flu-like disease with a rash that goes unnoticed in the vast majority of cases. Most patients simply treat the symptoms with painkillers and other medication.

"A Danish tourist who travelled to Central and South America was diagnosed on his return with the Zika virus," a hospital in eastern Denmark said in a statement late on Tuesday.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Zika, a flu-like disease with a rash that goes unnoticed in the vast majority of cases. Most patients simply treat the symptoms with painkillers and other medication.

The Danish patient was a young man who was expected to make a full recovery, the head of Aarhus hospital, Dr Lars Ostergaard, told public broadcaster DR.

Two people returning from Haiti and Colombia to Switzerland were also diagnosed with the virus, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health said. Neither was pregnant nor required hospital care, the statement said.

A woman in the Swedish capital of Stockholm was diagnosed with the virus in July last year, the Swedish Public Health Agency confirmed yesterday. She recovered after treatment, it added.

Britain has reported five cases in travellers returning from South America since last year, while the Netherlands has confirmed 10 cases, also in people returning from the region.

The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

The virus was first reported in Africa, Asia and the Pacific before leaping to the Americas, where it has been linked to a jump in the number of babies born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, particularly in Brazil.

The number of cases of the deformity in Brazil surged from 163 per year on average to 3,893 after the Zika outbreak began last year. Forty-nine of the babies have died.

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said the government would deploy 220,000 troops for a day next month to spread awareness about the virus.

A ministry spokesman said the deployment, expected to take place on Feb 13, largely involves personnel from different branches of the armed forces going door to door handing out pamphlets.

But some Brazilians questioned why the government was waiting until after the Rio de Janeiro Carnival on Feb 7 and 8 to step up the anti-mosquito campaign.

Epidemiologists warn that the carnival could serve as a catalyst for spreading Zika as tourists gather in cities during the peak breeding season for mosquitoes.

Infectious-disease specialists welcomed the troop deployment.

"Putting more troops on the streets is worth trying, and I hope it has a positive impact," said Dr Celso Granato, an infectologist at the Federal University of Sao Paulo. "But this is something that should have been done years ago."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'Virus found in more tourists returning to Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe