Sexual transmission of the Zika virus is “more common than previously thought”, which the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned is “alarming”.
“Reports and investigations from several countries strongly suggest that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously assumed,” Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, told the media yesterday.
Moreover, since February, “imported cases of Zika have been reported from every region in the world,” with local transmission in 31 areas of Latin America/the Carribean, and more geographical spread expected due to the rainy season.
Evidence now shows that Zika is neutropic and can cross the placental barrier and infect the foetus. The virus has been detected in the blood, brain tissue, and cerebrospinal fluid of foetuses following miscarriage, stillbirth, or termination of pregnancy.
“All of this news is alarming. Women who are pregnant in affected countries or travel to these countries are understandably deeply worried,” Chan stated.
In terms of travel measures, WHO stated:
- There should be no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission.
- Pregnant women should be advised not travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus outbreaks; pregnant women whose sexual partners live in or travel to areas with Zika virus outbreaks should ensure safe sexual practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy.
- Travellers to areas with Zika virus outbreaks should be provided with up-to-date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites and, upon return, should take appropriate measures, including safe sex, to reduce the risk of onward transmission.
- The World Health Organization should regularly update its guidance on travel with evolving information on the nature and duration of risks associated with Zika virus infection.
- Standard WHO recommendations regarding vector control at airports should be implemented in keeping with the IHR (international health regulations) (2005). Countries should consider the disinsection of aircraft.