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Germany reassesses Zika strategy as five cases are confirmed

Germany is starting to take precautions to curb the spread of the Zika virus. Health authorities have logged five cases among Germans who visited the Americas since October.

A spokeswoman for the German health ministry confirmed that there had been five cases of the Zika virus in Germany since October 2015. However, the Robert-Koch Institute (RKI), the German government's scientific institution in biomedicine, said that it was unlikely that any transmission of the virus had taken place in Germany or would likely take place under current conditions.

The health ministry said that the number of five instances was not likely to represent all cases in the country, as most infections brought to Germany from abroad were not recorded and rarely diagnosed in the first place. The ministry added that, with heightened awareness about the Zika virus, numbers of recorded diagnoses would likely rise in coming months.

A Brazilian baby with microcephaly, held by her father

The Zika Virus can result in microcephaly in fetuses - a deformity of the brain, which in many cases results in early death and severe lifelong learning difficulties

The health ministry also said that it would support the introduction of a bill that would result in the obligation to report all cases of diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes. The move is intended to result in better monitoring of the progression of the Zika virus in Germany. The obligation to report would include other so-called Arbo viruses - viruses spread by mosquitoes and ticks, including the yellow fever virus. The bill will be discussed in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, in March.

The Society for Virology at the University of Bonn, however, said it was unlikely that Germany could seriously be affected by the spread of the Zika virus. The head of the Society of Virology Christian Drosten said that there was no indication at present that mosquitoes in Germany would in future spread the Zika virus.

Explosive rise in cases in Latin America

After spreading through South America, the virus has been recorded in at least seven European countries, including Germany. The virus, known for its flu-like symptoms as well as skin rashes, is not deadly to humans. There are fears, however, that when transmitted sexually it can lead to babies being born with microcephaly, a deformity of the head. Pregnant women have been advised to stay away from affected areas because of this potential threat. Microcephaly cases in Brazil have spiked, seemingly in tandem with the Zika outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it expected up to 4 million cases of Zika infections if the spread of the virus in Latin America could not be stopped, with more than 1.5 million people probably carrying Zika in Brazil alone already. Ahead of major events, including the Rio Carnival next week and the 2016 Olympic Games due to take place in Rio de Janeiro this summer, authorities in South America are on high alert monitoring the situation.

The World Health Organization is currently looking into calling for a global state of emergency on account of explosive increase in cases. The last time such a state of emergency had been declared was at the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2015, resulting in special precautions being prescribed for flights to affected areas, including the close monitoring of passengers displaying signs of potential infection.

ss/msh (Reuters, AFP)

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