All aircraft returning to the UK from countries currently affected by active Zika virus transmission will be sprayed with insecticide as part of a comprehensive government response to the disease.
On Monday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the issue of microcephaly – which may be linked to Zika – a public health emergency of international concern.
As a precautionary measure, the government is asking airlines to ensure that disinsection (spraying with insecticide) takes place on all flights to the UK from countries with confirmed transmission of Zika.
Disinsection involves spraying a simple insecticide inside the aircraft to reduce the risk of passengers being bitten by any mosquitoes that could have entered the aircraft. It already occurs on the majority of flights from the region as a precaution against malaria.
The move is consistent with advice from WHO Europe. The type of mosquito that transmits the virus is extremely unlikely to survive and breed here given the lower temperatures in the UK.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said:
Spraying insecticide is a highly precautionary measure to reduce the risk to passengers during flights to the UK.
I want to reassure people that the risk to the UK population is extremely low. We advise people travelling to affected areas to reduce the risk of themselves being bitten by wearing mosquito repellent, long sleeves and trousers. Pregnant women should consider avoiding travel to countries with the Zika virus – or if travel is unavoidable, they ought to seek travel health advice from their GP or a travel clinic well in advance of their trip.
More funding for research
The government has also announced a further £1 million funding for research to tackle the Zika virus.
The money from the Global Challenges Research Fund will provide grants for researchers investigating the nature of the virus, including how it is passed on and the potential links to conditions including microcephaly, where an unborn baby’s brain and head stop developing in the womb. The funding will be made available through the Medical Research Council.
This is in addition to the government’s £1 billion Ross Fund, which includes over £188 million for the development of vaccines and diagnostic tests for diseases caused by viruses such as Zika.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally C Davies said:
We need to build the scientific evidence around the Zika virus, especially on the potential link to microcephaly. We are determined to support international efforts to understand how to diagnose the disease and control its spread. The UK is a world leader in medical research and I look forward to the progress this funding will undoubtedly bring.
The risk to the UK from Zika virus is extremely low.
Further funding for research into Zika virus has been provided through the UK’s Newton Fund to a joint research project between the University of Glasgow and Fiocruz, a leading biomedical centre in Brazil. The UK Vaccine Network will shortly launch a funding call to support the development of vaccines for some of the world’s deadliest diseases, including Zika.