Experts have warned that Zika virus could be passed on through sexual contact in Scotland as it emerged a “small number” of cases of the illness have been identified in people living north of the Border.
Fewer than five people in Scotland are believed to have been diagnosed with Zika, which has sparked a major health alert in some South American countries and can cause birth defects if pregnant women become infected.
The vast majority of those with the virus will have caught it after travelling to an area inhabited by infected mosquitoes, which pass it on to a person when they bite them. However, it can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.
The Scottish Government yesterday stressed that the disease “does not pose a public health risk” as it admitted there had been some cases in Scotland and said Zika-carrying mosquitoes cannot live in the UK due to the colder climate.
Zika expert Dr Claire Donald, research assistant at the Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow, said it could be transmitted sexually, even by people who do not have symptoms and are unaware they have been infected.
She said: “In Scotland there is a potential for it to spread by sexual contact. We don’t fully understand it but we know it is a much lower risk than from mosquitoes. There have been very few sexually transmitted cases and those there have been have mainly been male to female or male to male.”
More than 50 people across the UK have been treated for the infection, which is associated with a birth defect called microcephaly, which results in children being born with abnormally small heads and brain damage. It is thought that
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Zika virus only has symptoms in around 20 per cent of cases. Those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant have been warned to avoid Zika-rife areas, including areas of Florida in the US, where the Zika-carrying mosquito has been found. Some athletes have dropped out of the Olympic Games amid fears becoming affected with Zika could affect chldren they may want to have.”
Dr Donald added: “We really don’t understand much about this virus and the long term effects are not very well known.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We can assure the public that Zika does not pose a public health risk in Scotland, and of the cases identified in the UK a very small number have been found in Scotland.”