A leading travel health clinic has seen a rise in the number of people wanting to be screened for the Zika virus in the past month.
The medical director of Tropical Medical Bureau said they are testing three to five people a week for the virus. Others have also been phoning in looking for advice.
Young couples, in particular, who had holidayed in areas where there was evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus are asking to be screened.
The clinic’s director of nursing, Siobhan Grehan, said people are coming to the clinic to be screened almost every day now.
Ms Grehan said people concerned that they may have contracted Zika can have a blood test to show whether or not they were exposed to the virus.
The World Health Organisation said 67 countries have reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission.
Officials in the United States have warned pregnant women to avoid travelling to a Zika-affected part of Miami in Florida, where there have been 14 cases of Zika virus caused by local mosquitoes.
There is concern that people infected in Florida will travel to other areas of the country where Zika could be spread by mosquitos there.
Infection with Zika has been linked with a severe birth condition called microcephaly – a neural tubal defect where a new-born baby has an unusually small head because its brain may not have formed properly during pregnancy.
Cases of a neurological illness, called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, possibly caused by Zika virus, are also being studied.
Zika virus can also be passed between sexual partners and is more likely if the man has symptoms of the disease. Research has shown that Zika virus can be found in a man’s semen for up to two months after symptoms have started. While Zika can be transmitted through blood, this mode of transmission is not common.
There is no vaccine or specific drug for Zika virus.
Ms Grehan said they are advising pregnant women or women planning to conceive to consider the risk of travelling to a Zika- affected area.
The ongoing Zika outbreak was first detected last year in Brazil where it has been linked to more than 1,700 cases of the birth defect microcephaly.
Ms Grehan, who was speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, said the number of cases of Zika virus in Florida is very low, but there was still a risk.
However, medical experts always err on the side of caution when it came to pregnancy: “So, as a cautionary note, we want people to avoid anything that may potentially cause a risk to an unborn infant.”
She reckons that the disease will spread from Florida because for every five people that have the virus, only one will have symptoms.
The only way to stop the virus spreading is to control the mosquito population.
“We would always advise people who are travelling to areas where there are mosquitos to avoid being bitten because they carry many diseases.”
Zika virus is a mild disease, and most people will recover. But it is a potential issue for women who are pregnant or planning to conceive.
“So if you are pregnant or planning to conceive and if you are travelling to an area like Florida then you need to sit down and think about it,” she said.
The WHO has recommended that women avoid getting pregnant for up to eight weeks after returning home from an infected area.
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