back to top

Zika Virus In The UK: What You Need To Know

Public Health England advises British travellers delay pregnancy for a month after returning from Zika transmission areas.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Several people in the UK have been diagnosed with the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Orlando Sierra / AFP / Getty Images

Zika does not occur naturally in the UK and "does not spread directly from person to person" according to Public Health England.

As of February 2, a total of six UK travellers have been diagnosed with Zika. That number includes three cases in 2016 and two in 2015. The first case was in 2014 and was unrelated to the current outbreak.

The virus generally causes only mild symptoms in adults. But it has been linked to microcephaly – a condition associated with a small head and incomplete brain development – in babies.

The US has warned pregnant women against travelling to countries that have current Zika outbreaks, mostly in South and Central America and the Caribbean. As of January 27, Public Health England are advising pregnant women to "consider delaying travel to countries with ongoing Zika outbreaks."

Officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Savador, and Jamaica have advised women against getting pregnant until we know more about Zika's links to microcephaly.

Public Health England advise that men returning from counties where Zika transmission is happening use condoms for 28 days if they are having sex with a female partner at risk of pregnancy. If the man has an illness consistent with Zika, or a confirmed diagnosis of infection, they should use protection for six months. This is because there's some evidence that Zika can be transmitted sexually. Public Health England say that this is just a precaution, and that the advice may change if more information about transmission becomes available.

The current Zika outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015.


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), following the spread of the virus in Brazil there has been an uptick in the number of babies born with microcephaly.

The CDC report says that "Zika virus RNA has been identified in tissues from several infants with microcephaly and from fetal losses in women who were infected during pregnancy".

But it's unclear exactly how many of the microcephaly cases in Brazil are linked to Zika.

Now active Zika transmission has been confirmed in 22 countries: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela, Samoa, and Cape Verde.

Most people who are infected with the virus don't show any symptoms.

For the approximately 1 in 5 who do, symptoms usually last from a few days to a week and are mild, possibly including a fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, headache, or pain behind the eyes.

Zika virus is spread mostly by the female aedes mosquito.

Nelson Almeida / AFP / Getty Images

The primary culprit is the aedes aegypti mosquito, but other related species may also be capable of spreading the infection. Aedes mosquitoes also transmit the dengue and chikungunya viruses.

But there have also been instances of the virus being transmitted from mother to baby, through blood transfusion, laboratory exposure, and through sex, according to the CDC.


There is currently no antiviral treatment for Zika, and there's no vaccine or drug that can prevent the infection.

So Public Health England advises travellers to take measures to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos.

Zika gets its name from the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was first isolated in 1947.

Christophe Simon / AFP / Getty Images

The virus was not considered a major cause for concern until reports of birth defects during the current Brazil outbreak.

The Pan American Health Organization now says the virus is likely to continue to spread to all regions where the aedes mosquito is present, which includes all of the counties in the Americas, except for Canada and continental Chile.

The temperature in the UK is "not consistently high enough" for mosquitos carrying Zika to breed, according to Public Health England. But a study out in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal last year warned that warmer weather brought on by climate change could make conditions here favourable for such mosquitoes, bringing more vector-borne diseases to Europe in the next few decades.

Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Kelly Oakes at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.