SYDNEY, Feb. 11 — Australian health authorities have again urged pregnant women not to undertake international travel after a pregnant woman in Queensland state became infected with the Zika virus, local media reported Thursday.
The Asia-Pacific has been on high alert for the mosquito- borne virus, currently found in epidemic proportions in the Americans, following the declaration of a global emergency by the World Health Organization last week.
Regional leaders have indicated measures introduced to help combat the spread of Ebola virus can be re-activated if necessary after cases were detected in Samoa, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand.
The woman, diagnosed on Tuesday after returning from an overseas trip, marks the third case of Zika virus to be confirmed in Queensland state this year after another woman and child were diagnosed last week, and the 13th since 2014, though no local transmission has occurred. Seven cases have been found in New South Wales state to the south.
For the virus to spread inside Australia however, it would need to be carried by the yellow fever mosquito driving the Zika virus in Brazil, where it’s been linked to thousands of birth defects in newborns, which is only found in the tropical regions of the far north of Queensland state. The mosquito is not found in the metropolitan regions.
Health authorities in Queensland state issued a statement late on Wednesday, saying until more was known about the Zika virus, women who are pregnant or those actively seeking to become pregnant should reconsider travelling to any area where Zika virus transmission is present.
Though the WHO have declared the Zika virus to be a global epidemic, vaccine manufacturers have said a vaccine for wide-scale public use is months, if not years away.
The closest prospect is a consortium that could have a vaccine ready for emergency use by year’s end, with the first stage of human testing potentially beginning as early as August, according to its lead developer, Canadian scientist Gary Kobinger.
Current efforts to combat Zika are focused on protecting people from being bitten and on eradicating mosquitoes, a tough task for many parts of the poverty stricken Pacific islands that have been saving water from the El Nino enforced drought, inadvertently providing a breeding ground for the disease spreading insect.
Australian authorities are concerned the virus could then travel across the Torres Strait into the north of Australia. However they stress current biosecurity controls are working, as an outbreak is only likely to occur from returned travellers and not travelling mosquitos.
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