TWO cases of the Zika virus, which has led to health alerts in over 20 countries, have been diagnosed in Catalunya.
According to the regional health authority, the patients are both South American women, neither of whom are pregnant, and both of them had been back to their countries of origin – which have not been specified – over Christmas and New Year.
But as the virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, cannot be passed on by infected persons, Catalunya health department does not believe there is a risk to the general public.
The mosquitoes are normally found in tropical climates and, at this time of year in Spain, mosquitoes in general do not breed and are rarely, if ever, found even near rivers.
Discovered for the first time in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda, the virus of the same name is part of the same family as dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and Western Nile virus.
It causes minor illness with 'flu-like symptoms including fever, aching and swollen joints, conjuntivitis, eye infections, tiredness and headaches, and normally lasts around a week.
The incubation period in humans is around 12 to 15 days, and only around one in four affected people will develop symptoms.
But it is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as the virus can cause serious neurological damage in the foetus – for this reason, the US government has advised any women who are expecting that they should not travel to countries where the virus has been found.
Until recently, only sporadic cases were detected in countries in Africa and Asia, but in the last decade it has spread to various nations in Latin America.
Cases of the Zika virus tend to resolve themselves without any serious complications and hospital admissions are few and far between, but in some of the countries with active outbreaks an increase in neurological complications – such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome – have been detected and may be related to the infection.
Experts recommend pregnant women take extreme precautions if they travel to México, to Central American countries such as Panamá, El Salvador, Guatemala and Hondurás, to Caribbean islands of Haití, Martinique and Puerto Rico, and to South American nations including Venezuela, Brazil, Suriname, Colombia, French Guayana, and Paraguay.