Australia Confirms 2 Cases of Zika Virus

SYDNEY, Australia — Health officials in Australia on Tuesday confirmed two cases of the Zika virus in residents who most likely were infected on a visit to Haiti, and the officials also warned pregnant women not to travel to areas where transmission rates are high, like the Caribbean.

The two residents, from New South Wales, had mild cases of the virus when they returned from Haiti and have since recovered. The virus does not pose a serious threat to Australia, the Health Department said.
“It is very unlikely that Zika virus established local transmission in New South Wales as the mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, that spread the infection are not established here — although they are found in some parts of North Queensland,” Dr. Vicky Sheppeard, the state’s communicable diseases director, said in a statement after confirming Australia’s first cases of the virus this year. Since 2014, “occasional” cases of Zika have been identified in New South Wales among people who had traveled to areas where the virus has been most commonly transmitted, the statement said.
The World Health Organization said on Monday that the virus was an international public health emergency. The main concern is the virus’s possible link to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and, in the majority of cases, damaged brains.
Australian health officials issued a comprehensive warning to health professionals and travelers on Tuesday, saying that at least 21 countries and territories of Latin America and the Caribbean had reported outbreaks of Zika and that the virus had been spread in Samoa and Tonga, in the South Pacific.
“Due to the possibility of severe outcomes for unborn babies, women who are pregnant, or who are planning to become pregnant, should consider delaying their travel to areas with active outbreaks of Zika,” New South Wales health officials said on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Health Department also warned that the virus-carrying mosquitoes tend to live and bite people indoors and that they often hide under furniture. Peak biting periods tend to be during the day, and people may not notice they have been bitten.
The Health Department also said Tuesday that pesticides would be used in the cabins of some flights arriving in Sydney. “These measures are undertaken to prevent the exotic mosquitoes establishing breeding populations in Australia,” officials said in a statement.
The process involves crew spraying airborne insecticides through the cabin, a common practice in Australia and New Zealand to kill soft-bodied insects.
Dr. Cameron Webb, a medical entomologist at the University of Sydney, said Australia had had “a trickle of cases of Zika virus coming back into the country over the last decade.”
“The virus has been picked up by travelers who have come back into Australia after being in Asia or the Pacific,” he said. “The risks are minimal in Australia because the mosquitoes are only found in far North Queensland, not in the heavily populated cities, and that provides a buffer.”
Health officials in far North Queensland increased monitoring programs on Monday.

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