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Zika virus expected to reach Europe this summer

The Zika virus is expected to spread in Europe in late spring and during the summer, though the overall likelihood of an outbreak on the continent is low to moderate, health officials say.

The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe conducted a risk assessment and determined that although the risk varies across the region, it is higher in countries where the Aedes mosquito can be found.

The Portuguese island of Madeira and the northeastern coast of the Black Sea have a high likelihood of local Zika virus transmission. Another 18 countries in Europe - such as France, Spain, Italy and Greece - have a moderate likelihood of an outbreak occurring.

For the countries with high and moderate likelihoods of local Zika virus transmission, the WHO recommends that these countries strengthen vector-control activities in order to prevent the introduction and spread of mosquitos. They also recommend enabling people at risk, especially pregnant women, to protect themselves from infection.

The WHO is scaling up efforts to provide guidance on vector control and to deliver diagnostic tools needed for testing, the agency said.

Zika virus was first isolated from a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947 and the virus continued to affect mainly monkeys for nearly 5 more decades, causing only a mild illness when found in humans. That assessment began to change several years ago with outbreaks on Pacific islands, which preceded a larger outbreak in Brazil that has since expanded.

Local transmission of Zika has been reported in more than 60 countries and territories across all continents except Antarctica, according to the World Health Organization, which says further geographical spread is to be expected. Zika is spread mainly through mosquitoes but can also spread through sexual contact.

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