On 3 February 2016, the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe issued a statement urging European countries to take steps now to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. In response to this, the BSI has issued the following statement:
Dr Clive McKimmie, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, said:
“In South America and the Caribbean, the Zika virus is most likely being transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is widespread in tropical and sub-tropical climates. This mosquito species is not presently found in Europe, including the UK. However, a related mosquito species, called Aedes albopictus (also called the Asian Tiger mosquito) has established itself successfully in much of Southern Europe and the USA. It is currently not known if the Aedes albopictus mosquito can transmit the Zika virus to people, although it is known to transmit other mosquito-borne viruses such as those that cause Chikungunya and Dengue. Indeed, the presence of this invasive mosquito species most likely enabled an outbreak of Chikungunya in northern Italy in 2007, when an infected person travelled from an endemic region to Italy.
“As the extent of international travel increases, so does the probability of a mosquito-borne virus spreading to new geographical locations that have mosquitoes capable of transmitting these viruses. It will be important to find out whether the European resident Aedes albopictus mosquito is capable of transmitting Zika virus, or whether the Zika virus can easily mutate to infect these mosquitoes as otherwise it is not possible for us to predict the likelihood of a Zika outbreak in southern Europe. Finally, it is worth noting that climate change is predicted to increase the geographic range in which these mosquitoes can thrive, suggesting that as our climate changes, the risk to human health posed by these viruses will increase.”