Public Health England updates advice for pregnant travellers after Zika cases in Florida

Pregnant women are being advised by Public Health England to consider postponing non-essential trips to the US state of Florida, because of concerns over the Zika virus.

A mosquito on a human hand.

Pregnant women are being advised by Public Health England to consider postponing non-essential trips to the US state of Florida, amid concerns over the Zika virus.

Its travel advice was updated after Florida confirmed four cases of the virus transmitted by local mosquitoes.

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes. For most people it is a very mild infection and isn't harmful.

However, it may be more serious for pregnant women, as there's evidence it causes birth defects – in particular, abnormally small heads (microcephaly).

Public Health England's advice

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director and director of health protection at Public Health England, said the risk in Florida was considered "moderate", based on the number of cases and control measures in place.

"Pregnant women are advised to consider postponing non-essential travel until after pregnancy.

"Advice to all travellers remains to avoid mosquito bites."

He said Public Health England was monitoring the international situation closely.

Tommy's midwife Sophie explains why it's so important to consider whether your travel is essential, and follow the guidance:

"We strongly urge women to listen to the advice from Public Health England and the Zika specialists about delaying non essential travel to countries affected by the virus. Microcephaly is a life-long condition which can cause multiple health conditions as the newborn grows and develops. We would encourage mums-to-be and their families to make an informed choice about their travel to these affected countries, and to follow mosquito bite  precautions rigorously if they do choose to travel. If you are bitten by a mosquito in an affected country, then you must visit your GP/Midwife/Obstetric Consultant when you land in the UK for further tests."

The US Center for Disease Control does not expect a widespread outbreak of Zika in the country, but says it is preparing for small clusters of infections. Florida has announced more aggressive mosquito-control efforts.

Understanding risk ratings

The advice from Public Health England is based on a list of countries and territories with current active Zika virus transmission as classified by the European Centre for Disease Control.

Florida is listed as having a moderate risk rating for the Zika virus, along with Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Many more areas, including a number of countries in south and central America and the Caribbean, are categorised as being "high" risk.

In those countries, the advice is for pregnant women to postpone non-essential travel, rather than just considering postponing.

Health Protection Scotland has also updated its advice for travellers following the confirmation of the Zika cases in Florida, while links to Public Health England's guidance are provided on the websites of Public Health Wales and Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency.

Zika in the UK

In terms of the UK, Professor Cosford said more than 50 cases had been diagnosed since January, but the risk to the UK remained unchanged.

He said a small number of Zika virus infections in travellers returning to the UK was to be expected, but the risk to the wider population was "very low" as the mosquito that spread the virus was not found in the UK.

He added: "If you have recently returned from an area where Zika virus transmissions are currently reported and have a fever or flu-like illness, seek medical attention without delay to exclude malaria and mention your recent travel."

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