January 28, 2016 10:58 am
Updated: January 28, 2016 7:39 pm

Should Canadians worry about Zika virus?

WATCH: The World Health Organization is using the words "alarming" and "explosive" to describe the rapid spread of the Zika virus across North America and South America. Jackson Proskow reports.

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It’s “spreading explosively” and will touch every part of the Americas – except for Canada and Chile, global health officials warn. Latin American and Caribbean nations are urging women to postpone pregnancy for two years as scientists grapple with the largest Zika virus epidemic to date.

Should Canadians be worried about the mosquito-borne disease that’s tied to neurological defects in babies?

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For now, experts say no. Like dengue, West Nile and yellow fever, Zika virus is a mosquito-borne tropical disease, meaning mosquitoes transmit the disease to humans.

“Mosquitoes are the perfect vector. They normally don’t suffer from having the virus in them and they are blood transfusers,” Canadian microbiologist, Jason Tetro, explains.

READ MORE: 5 things Canadians need to know about Zika virus

But it’s the day-biting Aedes Aegypti – and other types of Aedes mosquitoes – that carry and transmit the virus. This mosquito is known to every country in the Americas except for Canada and Chile. We don’t have the climate for this type of mosquito to thrive.

WATCH: Health Minister warns of travel for pregnant women or those wanting to get pregnant due to Zika virus

In the past, a B.C. resident who travelled to El Salvador contracted the virus. Another case surfaced in a patient who travelled to Thailand. There hasn’t been a single reported case of locally acquired Zika virus in Canada, PHAC says.

The disease can’t be passed from person-to-person either.

But remember, viruses are stealthy – they constantly tweak themselves to become more resilient in their environment.

READ MORE: What pregnant women need to know about Zika virus and travel

“As far as we know, the mosquitoes in Canada can’t carry Zika. I fully expect Zika will make its way up north and if it can adapt to mosquitoes in Canada, there’s a good likelihood it will spread,” Tetro warns.

It wouldn’t be a first: West Nile virus and Lyme disease, as examples, weren’t common in Canada.

The World Health Organization said it’ll hold an emergency meeting on Monday to decide if the outbreak should be declared an international health emergency.

WATCH: WHO to meet, determine if Zika virus an international health emergency

READ MORE: Zika virus – Don’t have babies until 2018, countries warn

Health officials in El Salvador, Brazil, Jamaica, Ecuador, Honduras and Colombia told residents to stave off pregnancy until doctors better understand if the infection tampers with brain development in infants. So far, it’s been linked to a 20-fold increase in a rare defect called microcephaly in babies, in which the newborns are born with irregularly small heads and underdeveloped brains.

“We have to take an abundance of caution now to ensure we have a better understanding of what the relationship is and in the meantime protect women who are pregnant or may become pregnant,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a tropical infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto, told Global News.

READ MORE: Olympics in Brazil could spark spread of Zika virus abroad, Canadian docs warn

His Canadian research published this month warned that Zika virus will make its way into Florida, southern Texas and Mexico.

There’s a silver-lining, he noted. As the virus migrates north, Canadian health officials can track changes in the virus or in the mosquitoes transmitting the disease.

For its part, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued its own public health notice and travel health notice. It upped its travel recommendations, too.

READ MORE: Trip booked to Zika-affected region? Here’s how Canadian airlines will help you

“It is recommended that pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant discuss their travel plans with their health care provider to assess their risk and consider postponing travel to areas where the Zika virus is circulating in the Americas,” the PHAC advisory says.

WATCH: Prenatal getaways are being postponed for some expectant moms because of escalating fears concerning the mosquito born Zika Virus. Jill Croteau reports.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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