Mosquito-borne Zika virus infects first Israeli
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Mosquito-borne Zika virus infects first Israeli

Health ministry advises pregnant women to avoid growing number of countries with virus, which can cause fetal abnormalities

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES
A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES

The mosquito-borne virus Zika, which is causing thousands of fetal deformities across the developing world, has infected its first Israeli, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday.

A two-year-old girl returning from Columbia — where Zika is exploding — was diagnosed with the virus at the public health services’ central laboratories at Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. The girl was sent home in good condition.

Zika is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya. It is named for the Ugandan forest, where it was first discovered in 1947, and is common in Asia and Africa. It began to spread more widely in May, when an outbreak was reported in Brazil.

The Health Ministry is warning pregnant women to weigh canceling trips to countries being swept by the virus, in light of the evidence of a link between Zika and fetal microcephaly. The condition causes abnormal smallness of the head and incomplete development of the brain. Microcephaly already affects some 25,000 American babies each year without any connection to Zika.

Brazil, experiencing the biggest Zika epidemic, has recorded 3,893 cases of microcephaly since October, the BBC reported Thursday, up from 3,500 reported last week. Five babies have already died and a further 44 deaths are being probed.

More than 13,500 cases have been reported in Columbia, the BBC says.

`A researcher looks at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes kept in a container at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on January 8, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA)
A researcher looks at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes kept in a container at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on January 8, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA)

The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this month issued a list of 53 countries where the virus has been or is currently prevalent, of which 12 just registered antibodies in healthy people, which could indicate other mosquito-born viruses.

The CDC warned pregnant women not to travel to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. It has reported first-time outbreaks in Puerto Rico and Haiti.

The Israeli Health Ministry is advising women who are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, and cannot avoid travel to virus-hit areas, to consult a specialist in a relevant field before departure, such as an expert in infectious diseases, an epidemiological team at a health center, or a doctor serving at a clinic for travelers going overseas.

In addition, the ministry says, such women should take special precautions against mosquitoes.

Other travelers to South and Central America, Africa, South-East Asia and the Pacific islands should take mosquito repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts, long trouser and a hat, and should only sleep in rooms that have air conditioning, have been sprayed, or have window netting. Alternatively, they should sleep under a mosquito net, the ministry advised.

The CDC have issued similar guidelines.

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