The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an update on the Zika virus on Tuesday, acknowledging that “Zika transmission persists but has generally been at low levels throughout 2018 to the present.”
“As of July 2019, a total of 87 countries and territories have had evidence of autochthonous mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus (ZIKV), distributed across four of the six WHO Regions,” the United Nations agency added.
“Globally, 61 countries and territories in six WHO regions have evidence of established competent Aedes aegypti vectors but have not yet documented ZIKV transmission. Therefore, there is still a potential risk for ZIKV to spread to additional countries.”
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WHO also updated its advice to travelers, recommending that pregnant women avoid traveling to areas with Zika virus transmission, especially during outbreaks, based on the increased risk of severe birth defects during pregnancy.
“While in areas with the potential transmission of Zika virus and other diseases transmitted by Aedes and other day-biting mosquitoes, all travelers should take appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites during the day and early evening hours and avoid risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus,” WHO stated.
The organization advises travelers in these impacted areas to cover up with light-colored clothing and to use insect repellents, screens and windows to protect themselves.
WHO also encourages travelers to practice safer sex via condoms, abstinence and other measures in high-risk areas and upon returning home. “Returning travelers who develop symptoms of possible Zika virus infection (e.g. rash, fever, painful joints, red eyes) should contact their healthcare provider, inform their provider of their travel history and receive laboratory testing and clinical care as indicated,” WHO added.
Dr. Eve Lackritz, who leads WHO’s Zika Task Force, told the New York Times that her “biggest fear is complacency and lack of interest by the global community.”
WHO removed Zika as a high-level threat in the Caribbean last year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the Turks and Caicos Islands Zika-free this past spring.