The Zika virus that has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly in Brazil has been confirmed in Africa for the first time, the World Health Organization said in an emailed statement to Mashable.
WHO’s Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said the mosquito-borne virus was detected in a sample from Cape Verde, off the northwest coast of Africa, in October.
The virus circulating in Cape Verde “is the same as the one circulating in the Americas – the Asian type – and was most likely imported from Brazil”, WHO said.
She added that the findings were worrying because they prove that the outbreak is spreading “beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa”.
“This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness,” she said.
Moeti said she would not recommend strict travel restrictions to try to stop the spread of the disease.
“As a first step, these countries should heighten risk communication to pregnant women to raise awareness of complications associated with the Asian type of Zika virus and promote protection steps to avoid mosquito bites as well as sexual transmission,” WHO said.
“In addition, countries should increase their surveillance for Zika transmission and congenital malformations, such as microcephaly, as well as Guillain-Barr syndrome.”
There have been 7557 suspected cases of Zika in Cape Verde, with at least three cases of microcephaly reported.
The development comes after a new assessment by WHO that predicted the Zika virus would spread to Europe by this summer.
Zika, which is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitos, was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of Sylvatic yellow fever.
It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. The most recent outbreak started in Brazil in 2015.
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