The Zika virus may spread into Europe this summer as the weather gets warmer, health officials have warned.
The World Health Organisation has said the overall risk is small to moderate. It is highest in areas where Aedes mosquitoes thrive, in particular on the island of Madeira and the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea.
WHO's regional director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab said: “There is a risk of spread of Zika virus disease in the European Region and ... this risk varies from country to country. We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak.”
The WHO's European region covers 53 countries and a population of nearly 900 million, stretching from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south and from the Atlantic in the west to the Pacific in the east.
The Zika virus has been linked to thousands of cases of a birth defect known as microcephaly in babies of women who become infected with Zika while pregnant. It first sparked alarm when discovered in Brazil.
The WHO has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.
The WHO's Geneva headquarters in February declared the Zika outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), warning it was spreading “explosively” in the Americas.
The WHO's European office said that if no measures are taken to mitigate the threat, the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that can carry the virus mean the likelihood of local Zika transmission is moderate in 18 countries in the region.
A further 36 countries have low, very low or no likelihood, the assessment found. Aedes mosquitoes are not found in those countries and their climates would not be suitable for the mosquitoes to establish themselves.
The WHO is convening a meeting of European health experts in Portugal on 22-24 June to discuss the Zika threat further.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies