A leading British expert has warned pregnant women and couples looking to conceive to ‘think twice’ about travelling to parts of the US – including Florida, home to Walt Disney World – because of the growing threat of the Zika virus.
Those considering holidays to southern states including Texas, Louisiana and Florida – which contains Miami, Cape Canaveral and the Florida Keys – should look at alternatives, said Professor Jimmy Whitworth of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
There is currently no evidence that mosquitoes on the US mainland are infected with the virus, which can leave babies with under-developed brains if their mothers are infected during pregnancy.
Professor Jimmy Whitworth said he thinks mosquitoes could be carrying the Zika virus in the US in a couple of months and warns that people might have to reconsider visiting Disney World, pictured
But Prof Whitworth said he believed the situation could change as the summer heat builds and – with it – the number of mosquitoes. His assessment is backed by US scientists.
Prof Whitworth told The Mail on Sunday: ‘At the moment, if you said to me, “I’m going to Disney World tomorrow,” I’d say, “Go for it! That’s fine”.
‘Because we don’t think there’s any Zika in mosquitoes in the US right now. But will there be, in two or three months’ time? Well, there might be, as the situation might change.’
The warning comes after more than 100 scientists said the Rio Olympics should be moved or postponed because of the outbreak. To continue would risk spreading Zika globally, they added.
Zika is carried by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, which has swept the virus throughout South and Central America, and the Caribbean.
Transmission is now occurring in Mexico, on the US’s southwestern border, and Cuba in the east, 90 miles from Key West.
Prof Whitworth stressed Zika was only a minor health risk to most people. Four in five of those infected experience no illness and, in those that do, symptoms are usually limited to fever and mild joint pain.
Health workers pictured earlier this year spraying insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmits the Zika virus, at the Sambadrome in Rio
A scientist prepares a mosquito sample that will be tested for the Zika virus at the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, in Kissimmee, Florida
‘If you are not pregnant or not thinking of getting pregnant, then I don’t think it is something to worry about,’ he said.
But the virus can wreak havoc with the developing foetus, curtailing brain and head development to produce a condition called microcephaly.
He said pregnant women and those trying for a baby ‘need to consider their plans and, if there is an alternative to going to those parts of the US, strongly consider it’.
He added: ‘They should think twice and seek up-to-date expert advice.’
Public Health England said it was ‘monitoring the international situation closely’.
- World Health Organisation bosses have been accused of being ‘too close’ to Olympic chiefs to give an honest warning about the threat of the Zika virus to the Rio Games. The WHO says there is ‘no justification’ for moving or postponing the event. But a group of experts, who have signed an open letter, claim there is a ‘conflict of interest’ as the WHO has close links to the International Olympic Committee.