Zika cases in UK travellers triple in a month as 100 new cases confirmed

UK GPs encountered an unprecedented number of Zika virus cases over the past few weeks, data from Public Health England (PHE) suggest, as the number of confirmed cases in travellers tripled in the past month.

A total of 189 travel-associated cases of Zika virus have been identified in UK patients since the current outbreak began, PHE data show.

GPonline reported in August that 66 cases had been diagnosed in UK travellers since 2015, suggesting the total number of UK cases has since tripled in just one month.

Official guidance advises GPs to perform blood tests in all patients with symptoms who return from active transmission areas, and to refer all pregnant women for ultrasounds.

The rise in cases is likely fuelled by people returning from trips to areas in South America and the Caribbean over the summer break.

PHE has also started reporting cases where patients show signs of recent Zika infection due to antibody evidence in their blood or urine, not only those currently infected with the disease – which could account for some of the rise.

Zika virus infection

Two thirds of cases have been in patients travelling to the Caribbean (68%), followed by South America (17%) and Central America (11%).

Two cases have been confirmed in travellers visiting North America – one after visiting the high-risk Miami-Dade County in Florida – and one further case in a patient visiting Oceania. The remaining four visited more than one region.

The largest number reported travel to Jamaica, followed by Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago. In South America, most reported travel to Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Nicaragua.

Zika virus infection can be asymptomatic or accompanied by mild symptoms including fever, red eyes, joint pain, rashes and headaches.

Infection in pregnancy can have more serious consequences, and has been linked to a number of congenital malformations including microcephaly.

The virus is predominantly spread via mosquito bites, but it can survive in semen for at least two months and sexual transmission has been documented.

Photo: iStock

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