Statement – WHO urges European countries to prevent Zika virus disease spread now
Statement by Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe
The WHO Director-General has declared that the recent cluster of microcephaly and neurological disorders in Latin America and the Caribbean constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and requires a united response. She has defined it an "extraordinary event" and a public health threat to other parts of the world, on the basis of a strong suspicion of a causal link between this cluster of disorders and Zika virus disease, as agreed by the experts on the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.
The combination of broad geographical distribution of mosquito species that can transmit the virus, the absence of immunity against the virus throughout the world and lack of both a vaccine and rapid, reliable diagnostic tests raises concerns that Zika virus disease will spread globally.
Recommendations to European countries
Every European country in which Aedes mosquitos are present can be at risk for the spread of Zika virus disease. A number of travellers infected with Zika have entered Europe, but the disease has not been transmitted further, as the mosquito is still inactive. With the onset of spring and summer, the risk that Zika virus will spread increases.
Now is the time for countries to prepare themselves to reduce the risk to their populations. As there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus disease, we must protect the European Region by stopping the disease at its source. I urge European countries to act early in a coordinated way to:
- control the mosquitoes, including community engagement in eliminating mosquito breeding sites and planning for insecticide spraying and killing of larvae in case of outbreaks;
- inform people at risk, especially pregnant women, about preventing mosquito bites;
- enhance surveillance and ensure laboratory detection of Zika virus disease and its neurological complications; and
- step up research to understand Zika virus disease and develop diagnostic tests and vaccines.
We at WHO stand ready to support countries in the European Region in preventing the spread of Zika virus disease, where requested. This will include:
- providing guidance on integrated vector control strategies;
- facilitating shipment of samples to WHO reference laboratories or delivering diagnostic tools for local testing; and
- advising on risk communication.
No restrictions on travel or trade
On the basis of the available evidence, WHO does not recommend travel or trade restrictions related to Zika virus disease. As a precautionary measure, national governments may issue travel recommendations to their own populations after assessing the available evidence and local risk factors.
People travelling to high-risk areas should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using repellents, wearing light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and trousers and ensuring that rooms are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering. As Aedes mosquitoes bite during the day, these measures should be applied all day long.
Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take extra care to protect themselves from mosquito bites. They might also consult their local health authorities if they are travelling to an area with ongoing Zika virus transmission.
Health authorities are advised to collaborate with the transport sector to ensure disinsection of aircraft arriving from affected areas.