The Zika virus could arrive in Europe this summer as warmer weather boosts the numbers of mosquitoes.
Summer will see a “marked increase” in Zika cases in Europe, warned the assistant director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) Marie-Paule Kieny.
She said the two species of Aedes mosquito which carry the virus will begin to circulate in Europe as the weather heats up.
The virus is transmitted by the bite of infected female Aedes mosquitoes and usually takes three to 12 days to develop in humans.
“The mosquito knows no borders,” she warned at a Zika conference in France.
WHO is preparing a comprehensive review of the risk in Europe, which is expected in the next few weeks.
Its advice for health authorities can be found here. It said that the risk increases as the weather warms up.
Whilst the aegypti mosquito is the main transmitter of Zika, the albopictus which is found in 20 European countries including France, Italy, Spain and Greece can also spread Zika.
WHO has warned European countries to be prepared to protect people from the virus, which can cause microephely.
Zika was first discovered in Africa in the 1940s.
It had rarely been found in humans until the outbreak last year which centred in Brazil.
Public Health England said there have been 21 cases of Zika in UK travellers since 2015.
It has produced guidance for primary care. It recommends that travellers use mosquito repellent containing DEET.
Pregnant women should consult their doctor and midwife if they have travelled to an area with Zika, and women planning pregnancy should take precautions to avoid conception within 28 days of their return.