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Zika virus: Four cases confirmed in the UK

The cases are linked to the current outbreak in South America

Published 10/02/2016

Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland said the risk of Zika to the public was 'negligible'.
Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland said the risk of Zika to the public was 'negligible'.

Four cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the UK since the beginning of the year.

Health officials in England have said they tracking a number of women who have travelled to countries affected by the Zika-virus.

Public Health England said it was monitoring various surveillance systems and tracking women who call in with concerns about the virus.

Speaking to the Science and Technology Committee, Dr Dilys Morgan, head of the gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic infections department at Public Health England, said women who want testing for the virus are being documented and other registries are being closely monitored.

When asked what advice GPs are giving to patients who have travelled to affected countries, she told MPs: "We are dealing with these cases all the time, it very much depends on where the woman has been, what the woman has done, has she gone to an area of high transmission where there have been lots of cases reported? I think there is a gradation of the risk which we can give.

"I don't feel we should be worrying these women too much when not every foetus will be affected, we don't know what the proportion is but we know it is probably low looking at the numbers so I think there are various reassurances we can give, but what we shouldn't do is give reassurances about the evidence."

When asked if there was anything going on to track the number of people that are presenting to their GPs with worries about Zika, she added: "There are various surveillance schemes that are ongoing; we are documenting the women who want testing, we are looking at people who are reporting this to their obstetric services, we are currently working with the various registry systems or surveillance systems looking at abnormalities in pregnancy or adverse outcomes, we are working with the congenital abnormalities register.

"So we are looking for cases in the UK. We are tracking the women who ring in to Public Health England, because that is all centrally logged, with their worries."

She added: "What we are doing is explaining what we do know and how best people can be protected, reassuring them that there is no risk to the UK population, it is a risk to travellers, of those travellers your risk of acquiring Zika depends on where you are travelling - you are likely to get a very mild illness if you notice anything at all but if you are pregnant then you may be at risk of an abnormal foetus which is obviously devastating.

"We have been trying to communicate those risks and we have been working with the medical profession so that when women do go and want to discuss it with their healthcare providers then they are in a better position of how to advise them."

Ms Morgan told the committee that there had been seven travel-associated cases documented in UK.

Six of the cases are linked to the current outbreak in South America, including four since the start of the year.

She also said that officials "expected to see more cases" of travel-associated infections.

MPs were told that there had been a "pre-Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies" meeting where experts concluded that the risk to the UK population was very low.

The hearing on the virus comes as the UK medicines watchdog has pledged its support to counter the outbreak.

Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland has said the risk of Zika to the local population was 'negligible'.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), as a member of the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities - which brings together 21 medicine regulators from across the world, has said it will work to fight against the virus.

An MHRA spokesman said that priorities are to support the rapid development of diagnostic tests as well as vaccines and treatments against Zika.

Independent News Service

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