Zika Expected to Make its Way to Europe This Spring, Says World Health Organization

zika mosquito
The World Health Organization said more than 30 percent of countries in Europe should prepare for a moderate Zika outbreak starting in late spring. Carlos Jasso/REUTERS

Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report this week predicting the Zika virus will make its way to Europe as early as late spring 2016. However, as with most of the U.S., a large scale outbreak is unlikely.

Geographical areas in the region that already have a sizable population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—which can transmit the virus—are most likely to see cases of Zika. These include the island of Madeira (located south of Portugal) and the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea.

Countries in Europe that have a "moderate" risk for a Zika outbreak, according to the WHO report, include Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Georgia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, San Marino, Monaco, Spain, Israel, Croatia, Malta and Italy. These 18 countries comprise a little more than 30 percent of Europe. Another 36 countries have a low to very low risk for Zika outbreaks, WHO says.

"With this risk assessment, we at WHO want to inform and target preparedness work in each European country based on its level of risk." Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO's regional director for Europe, said in a press statement issued on Wednesday. "We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak."

Despite the overall low risk level, WHO health officials are recommending each country take certain precautions to prepare for potential transmission of the virus. These include spraying pesticides in areas where mosquitos are likely to be found, training health care providers on how to spot and report patient cases, making diagnostic tests available to countries in the region and educating health care providers so they are equipped to counsel pregnant women about their risks.

The WHO will also provide its own resources, such as diagnostic tests, to these countries. The agency will convene a regional meeting in Portugal on June 22 to develop an emergency response plan for when countries in the region experience an actual outbreak.