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Zika virus unlikely to hit Canada: expert

Last Updated Jan 26, 2016 at 5:46 pm PDT

Mosquito sucking blood (iStock)

There's suspicion the Zika virus is behind a rise in cases of babies being born with abnormally small heads

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – There’s a strong chance Canada will avoid a massive outbreak of a virus like we are seeing in parts of South America. There’s an unconfirmed suspicion the Zika virus is behind a rise in cases of babies being born with abnormally small heads and microcephaly.

The virus is spread by a certain type of mosquito that hasn’t been seen here and isn’t expected to be either according to epidemiologist Dr. David Patrick with the BC Centres for Disease Control. “This has to do with the distribution of the mosquito vector. Aedes aegypti and a couple of other species of Aedes day-biting mosquitoes are the main vectors and these are known to exist in every country in the Americas except for Canada and Chile. We won’t rest on our laurels in Canada. We have to keep trapping mosquitoes, seeing what we’ve got in case the distribution of the vector or the mosquito changes.

Dr. Patrick says there’s one other big advantage we have. “We sit north of the United States. If it comes, we’re going to see it coming. The Americans are no slouches in doing surveillance for this kind of thing.”

Zika has become a major cause for concern not because of the illness it produces in only about 25 per cent of cases, but the effect it may have on pregnant women and their fetuses. There’s a strong suspicion some babies born to women with the virus develop small heads and microcephaly, an underdeveloped brain.

Dr. Patrick says the virus is new to the Americas. It likely came over the Atlantic from Africa in 2015 and has spread rapidly ever since. “It’s spreading so rapidly probably because nobody’s seen it before, nobody is immune and so you tend to get very big epidemics when a virus is new to an area. Maybe that’s the reason we’re seeing the complications that this is just a tip of the iceberg thing that you see pretty rarely in Zika infections. If you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people getting it all at once, you’re going to see it.”

Some governments are telling women to avoid pregnancy until the outbreak is over. Airlines are offering pregnant women refunds for booked trips to South America. Canada is one of many countries telling pregnant woman to avoid travel to the area.