Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has been urged to provide “urgent clarity” following confirmation that a number of people from Northern Ireland have been diagnosed with the Zika virus.
The Public Health Agency has stated that, since 2015, there have been less than five Northern Ireland residents diagnosed with the virus. All have a history of travel to Zika-affected areas.
It has been reported that a person in the Province was treated as recently as last week.
Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA described the news as “an extremely worrying development”, adding: “The fact that this virus has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains will be disturbing for local people.
“I would urge the Minister to inform at-risk groups about the risks and how to protect themselves. As I understand it there are currently no vaccines or drugs to treat the virus with patients undergoing treatment being advised to drink water and rest.
“The Minister must also ensure that her Department closely monitor developments in both managing and understanding the virus as work is ongoing across the world to develop treatment and testing regimes. I will be raising this issue at tomorrow’s Health Committee meeting at Stormont.”
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Meanwhile, the DUP’s health spokesperson, Jim Shannon MP told the News Letter that the news “reaffirmed” the need for a “regional strategy” to help prevent the spread of the virus.
He added: “The onus for combating the spread of the virus locally is not just on the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. There needs to be a strategy in place across all four regions of the UK.
“There also needs to be greater awareness when people travel overseas and the potential implications if they unknowingly bring the disease back home with them.”
The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency. The virus is an infection transmitted by Aedes mosquitos. The infection often occurs without symptoms but it can cause a mild illness which can include fever, headache, rash, joint and muscle pain, and conjunctivitis.
For those with symptoms, Zika virus tends to cause a mild, short-lived (two to seven days) illness. There is no specific treatment for Zika virus disease other than supportive measures, such as analgesics and hydration, for those who have symptoms and patients affected are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.