More than 50 people in the UK have been diagnosed with Zika virus this year, health officials confirmed today.
Public Health England released a statement following reports of three people in West Yorkshire being treated for the virus after returning from overseas.
Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director at Public Health England, said: ‘As of 27 July 2016, over 50 cases have been diagnosed in UK travellers since January 2016.
The risk to the general public is low – and all the patients had caught the virus abroad, he said.
He said: ‘We expect to see small numbers of Zika virus infections in travellers returning to the UK, but the risk to the wider population is very low as the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus is not found in the UK.
Three people in West Yorkshire have been treated for Zika after testing positive for the virus (file image)
‘Public Health England is monitoring the international situation closely and the risk to the UK remains unchanged.
‘If you have recently returned from an area where Zika virus transmissions are currently reported and have a fever or flu-like illness, seek medical attention without delay to exclude malaria and mention your recent travel.’
The three patients from West Yorkshire were treated at hospitals in Huddersfield and Calderdale, it emerged at an NHS trust board meeting yesterday.
An infection control report presented to the board said: ‘Three patients have tested positive for Zika virus following return from foreign travel.’
Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brains.
It has been declared a ‘global public health emergency’ by the World Health Organisation and has spread rapidly in South America.
The Zika virus is spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito, the Aedes Aegypti – but can also be spread sexually as the virus can live for months in semen.
The Zika virus is spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito, the Aedes Aegypti (pictured) – but can also be spread sexually as the virus can live for months in semen
And studies showing Zika can also survive in saliva raised concerns the virus could be passed through kissing or sharing cutlery or toothbrushes with people who are infected.
Most people with the virus never develop symptoms. Others get a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes, and recover within a week.
But pregnant women are advised to delay travelling to affected countries overseas after evidence was found linking Zika to birth defects.
Dr Gavin Boyd, infection control lead at Calderdale and Huddersfield hospitals, said: ‘There is no specific treatment for Zika and it usually wears off naturally after two to seven days.
‘After a diagnosis patients are cared for by their GPs if needed.
‘There is extremely low risk of contracting Zika virus in the UK as the mosquito that transmits the infection is not present in the UK, however it can be spread by sexual transmission.’