Hundreds of thousands of people in Spain could be infected with the Zika virus if a new type of mosquito starts to spread it, a specialist has warned.
The distinctive yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is known to transmit the disease spreading through the Americas, Caribbean, Pacific and parts of Africa.
But there are fears transmission could start in Europe if another type of mosquito is able to carry Zika.
Frederic Bartumeus, a research professor based in Catalonia, told the Telegraph that if the closely-related tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) begins to spread the disease, “hundreds of thousands of Zika cases” could soon be seen in Spain.
“I am sure the tiger mosquito can carry Zika, but we have not seen yet in Europe how efficient it is at spreading it”, he said, adding that a study carried out in Gabon nine years ago showed that Aedes albopictus was could transmit Zika.
Tiger mosquitos, native to Southeast Asia, were first recorded in Barcelona in 2004 and are believed to have spread by sitting in stagnant water in lorry tyres travelling around Europe.
Active transmission of Zika in Spain could affect the hundreds of thousands of British tourists who visit the country each year.
There is no known cure or vaccine for the virus, which was believed to be exclusively spread by mosquitos until authorities in the US reported a patient had caught it through sexual contact.
The person being treated in Texas had not travelled and became infected by having sex with a person who had recently returned from Venezuela.
There are also concerns that Zika could be transmitted by blood or other bodily fluids, following reports that at least two people in Brazil caught it via blood transfusions.
The NHS has banned blood donations from travellers returning from Zika-hit areas for a month, while the American Red Cross has also urged prospective donors returning from affected countries to wait at least 28 days.
Speaking to The Independent, University of Lancaster lecturer and virologist Dr Derek Gatherer that the nature of international travel means we should now expect Zika to “turn up all over the place”, but said there is no reason to believe it will spread once it reaches the West.
“Even in the extreme unlikelihood of a southern European outbreak, it would probably fizzle out quite quickly,” he added.
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
A worker of the Salvadorean Ministry of Health fumigates a house in Soyapango, 6 kilometers from San Salvador, El Salvador. Salvadorean authorities have began a three days campaign of fumigation to reduce the presence of the mosquito that transmit the Zika virus.
A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-BarrÈ Syndrome in foetuses.
AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOSMarvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A pediatric infectologist examines a two-months-old baby, who has microcephaly, on 26 January 2016 in Recife, Brazil.
A woman walks through the fumes as Health Ministry employee fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango.
Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A health ministry employee sprays to eliminate breeding sites of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits diseases such as the dengue, chicunguna and Zica viruses, in a Tegucigalpa cemetery on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA
A man walks away from his home with his son as health workers fumigates the Altos del Cerro neighbourhood as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Soyapango, El Salvador
A three-months-old, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil.
A pregnant woman waits to be attended at the Maternal and Children's Hospital in Tegucigalpa. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Army soldiers apply insect repellent as they prepare for a clean up operation against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
AP Photo/Andre Penner
Workers disinfect the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro to fight the spread of the Zika virus
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, measures the head of a 2-month-old baby with microcephaly in Recife
Mother Mylene Helena Ferreira cares for her son David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who has microcephaly, on January 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants
U.S. women who are pregnant from traveling to many South American countries
In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants.
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, examines a two-month-old baby with microcephaly on January 27, 2016 in Recife, Brazil
Brazil is one of the countries in South America where the Zika virus has taken hold
Health workers fumigating to combat Zika virus in Lima, Peru. The US have already issued a warning urging pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin American countries
Two-month-old Jose Wesley, born with microcephaly in Brazil, is nursed by his brother
Zika was first identified in humans in the 1950s but had been regarded as localised and relatively harmless until a massive outbreak that started last year in Brazil.
Links have to microcephaly - a congenital disorder that can shrink unborn babies' brains and heads and reduce life expectancy – and pregnant women visiting countries affected by the virus have been urged to protect themselves against mosquito bites.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described Zika as having potentially “explosive pandemic potential” after declaring a global public health emergency on 1 February.
Most of those affected experience no symptoms but about one in five people infected may experience fever, a rash, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis and fatigue around three to 12 days after being bitten.
The British Government is not advising travel restrictions to areas where Zika transmission is active but urges pregnant women to consider avoiding affected areas.