Two unrelated cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in Ireland, with both people having contracted the mosquito-borne disease during an overseas trip. The virus is currently spreading rapidly across parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil predicted to see more than 1.5 million cases.
Zika has been linked to the congenital defect microcephaly, in which babies are born with unnaturally small brains and heads. Pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant have been warned against travel to Zika-affected areas.
In a statement, Ireland's health service, HSE, said: "The HSE was informed on 2 February 2016 of two unrelated cases of Zika virus infection in two adults who are currently well and fully recovered. "Both individuals have a history of travel to a Zika-affected country. These are the first cases of Zika-virus infection confirmed in Ireland. Neither case is at risk of pregnancy.
"The finding of Zika cases in Ireland is not an unexpected event, as many other European countries have reported cases as a result of travel to affected areas. Currently, outbreaks of Zika virus are occurring in some countries in South and Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands."
The announcement came as the first case of the Zika virus being transmitted via sexual contact was confirmed this month in Texas. Previously, the virus has only been diagnosed in people who had been infected via mosquito bite, however it was believed that there was a small risk of infection via sexual intercourse. The HSE advised people returning to the country from an affected area to contact a doctor if they became ill within two weeks of re-entering the country.
It added: "The most important measure to prevent infection with Zika virus or other infections transmitted by mosquitoes is to avoid mosquito bites. Women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should consult their doctor or seek advice from a travel clinic before travelling to a country affected by Zika virus. They should also consider postponing their travel to affected areas."