The World Health Organisation has declared that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
These cases are attributed to the Zika virus which is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. South and Central American countries are currently experiencing outbreaks. University staff and students travelling to affected areas are advised to take the necessary precautions, but Public Health England stresses that any public health risk to the wider population in England is negligible, as the mosquito that transmits the virus is not found in the UK.
Zika is not harmful in most cases but may pose a particular threat to pregnant women because of the possible risk of microcephaly, a birth defect. In the vast majority of cases the virus is spread by bites from the Aedes mosquito, though there have also been cases of maternal transmission to a foetus and one case of sexual transmission. The incubation period is thought to be a few days. Symptoms are usually mild, last 2-7 days, and can include fever, a skin rash and conjunctivitis. There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine.
No restrictions on travel to and from countries with Zika transmission have been imposed. Travellers to these areas are encouraged to seek advice about ongoing outbreaks from their GP/Practice Nurse/travel clinic before departure and to take appropriate measures to reduce exposure to mosquito bites. This advice is particularly relevant to women who are or are intending to become pregnant; to people with severe or chronic medical conditions or medical conditions which weaken the immune system. Public Health England and the National Travel Health Network and Centre are advising pregnant women to consider avoiding travel to countries with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. Pregnant students concerned that travel cancellation may impact on their course work should discuss this in the first instance with their departmental supervisor or college adviser. The University will always support any reasonable adjustments to ensure students are not disadvantaged because of pregnancy.
Further information can be found on the following websites: