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Sun Jul 24 01:13:21 SAST 2016

SA blood not to Zika's taste

Katharine Child and Reuters | 01 February, 2016 00:17
Across Brazil babies have been born with neurological damage and smaller than usual heads, believed to have been caused after their mothers were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. File photo
Image by: UESLEI MARCELINO / REUTERS

As the World Health Organisation meets today to decide whether the Zika virus should be treated as a global emergency, South Africans have little to fear from the disease.

Zika is not that likely to come to South Africa, according to National Institute for Communicable Diseases deputy director Professor Lucille Blumberg.

However, she warned that pregnant women should not travel to South America or the Caribbean, where the virus is present.

Across Brazil babies have been born with neurological damage and smaller than usual heads, believed to have been caused after their mothers were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

The virus is spread by the Aedesaegypti mosquito, which is present in South Africa. The mosquito here, however, is slightly different.

"It is not known if it is even able to transmit the virus to humans," said Blumberg.

The local aegypti mosquito does not like to bite people, she said.

For the disease to spread in South Africa, said Blumberg, someone would have to contract Zika in South America or the Caribbean and travel back home and be bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito here while still infectious.

"A person is infectious for only a few days and would have to be bitten during a short period of time, making it even more unlikely," Blumberg said. "The disease would require multiple mosquitoes to be infected before it could spread," she said. "Zika was first identified in 1947 in Uganda, but has never been recorded further south."

Dr Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organisation, said the Zika virus had gone "from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions".

Health officials said between 500000 and 1.5million people had been infected in Brazil. The virus has since spread to more than 20 countries in the region.

Five Germans reportedly contracted the virus, but did not spread it as the Aedes aegypti mosquito does not exist in Germany. Denmark's first case was recorded last week.

The US has two potential candidates for a Zika vaccine and may begin clinical trials by the end of this year, but there will not be a vaccine widely available for several years, officials said last week.

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