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Neurologists warn on Zika threat to Europe

Tuesday May 31st, 2016

The Rio Olympics this summer will pose a "special epidemiological risk" to Europe because of the Zika virus, neurologists have warned.

Growing numbers of Europeans may contract the virus in mosquito-plagued areas, the conference of the European Academy of Neurology in Copenhagen, Denmark, heard yesterday.

Visitors and participants at the Olympics are getting guidance on protecting themselves against mosquitoes and practising safe sex.

But the conference heard it would be "unrealistic" not to expect Europeans to be infected.

Professor Raad Shakir, from London, UK, the president of the World Federation of Neurology, said: “Time is not on our side. The Zika virus is more and more not only showing its ugly face, but also its potential to go truly global.

“We clearly see a relentless spread of the epidemic, and Europe will not be spared from this development.”

He warned that the full neurological impact of the virus was still unknown.

He told delegates: “Many people still seem to believe that only pregnant women should be concerned because of the devastating foetal malformations when the infection is acquired during pregnancy, such as microcephaly. While this is, indeed, a particularly tragic consequence of the virus, we need to be aware that infected persons are also at risk of developing serious neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), myelitis or meningoencephalitis."

Neurologist Professor John England, from Louisiana State University, New Orleans, USA, told the conference: "The Rio Olympics are a special epidemiological risk since so many people are expected to go there. It would be unrealistic not to assume that we will see more imported cases after thousands of athletes and fans return from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, an area particularly hit by the virus.”

He said of Europe: “In this part of the world there is a relatively high amount of resources for neurological care available.

"This is not the case for many of the countries which are right now affected most by the virus and where we have witnessed unnecessary deaths which would not have happened in less deprived parts of the world.”

* In a study reported to the conference, Portuguese researchers set out to discover whether the excitement of football matches increased the risk of stroke.

Their study of Portuguese hospital admissions last year found no evidence of an increased rate of strokes on match days.

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Europe | Flu & Viruses | South America

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