30 Jan 2016

Low risk of zika mosquitoes thriving in NZ

2:13 pm on 30 January 2016

There's a very low risk of mosquitoes carrying the zika virus establishing themselves in New Zealand if they make it here, says an expert.

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Photo: AFP

Only two species of mosquito can carry the virus, which has been linked to thousands of cases of babies being born in Brazil with abnormally small heads and brains that have not developed properly.

The Aedis mosquitos are common throughout tropical and sub-tropical areas, but only two species are known to transmit zika.

Entomologist Peter Maddison said even if those mosquitoes made it through New Zealand's comprehensive biosecurity measures, they would struggle to cope with the country's climate.

Dr Maddison said they probably would not survive the winter.

He said scientists did not know if New Zealand's mosquitoes could carry and transmit the zika virus.

Earlier this week the Ministry for Primary Industries said it had no plans to ramp up border biosecurity to deal with the risk of zika-carrying mosquitoes coming here.

IOC reassures Olympic athletes

The International Olympic Committee has assured national sports teams competing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics the city will be safe, despite the zika outbreak.

However the IOC is advising visitors to protect themselves against mosquitoes while in the country.

Ever since the zika crisis began, the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and health officials in the city have been insisting that Rio de Janeiro would be able to operate as normal during the Olympic Games.

It's an opinion largely shared in a report from the IOC's medical commission.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health is advising women who are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, to take extra care to avoid exposure to the virus.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee is advising all athletes who are pregnant or hoping to get pregnant in the near future not to travel to the games in Brazil in August.

But while New Zealand is among those countries warning pregnant women against travelling to Brazil, the IOC does not go that far.

The IOC said Games venues would be regularly inspected to ensure puddles of stagnant water - where mosquitoes breed - are removed, minimising the risk of athletes and visitors coming into contact with the insects.

It added it was in close communication with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Rio 2016 organising committee, which itself is in regular contact with the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the Municipal Health Department.

The organising committee will continue to follow virus prevention and control measures provided by the authorities, and will pass on relevant guidance to competing athletes and visitors.

The WHO, meanwhile, will convene a meeting on Monday to decide if zika should be treated as a global emergency.

Between three and four million people could be infected with the virus in the Americas this year, experts have warned.

- RNZ / BBC

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