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Zika virus in Europe: Experts warn not to underestimate threat as mosquitoes become active this summer

Experts say the threat for the transmission of the Zika virus will increase this summer, with a low to moderate risk predicted across Europe.

"The risk for an outbreak of Zika virus disease in the European Region should not be underestimated. The potential link with microcephaly and neurological disorders is of particular concern," a March 2016 press release from the World Health Organization (WHO) European Regional Office stated.

There are multiple species of mosquitos that are able to carry and transmit the virus.

The type of mosquito responsible for the spread of the virus across Latin America is called Aedes aegypti and is the main carrier for the disease.

While the aegypti mosquito is not commonly found across Europe, the Aedes albopictus mosquito is prevalent in the region. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed this mosquito is a potential carrier for the Zika virus.

"The Aedes albopictus mosquito, which is present in 20 European countries and 30 departments of France, is due to become active in May when weather conditions allow it to thrive," according to a press release from Institut Pasteur, a French non-profit foundation that studies biology, micro-organisms, diseases and vaccines.

The Zika virus resurged as a threat to the human population in April of 2015, when a case of the infection was confirmed in Brazil. Since that time, the virus has been steadily transmitted far and wide across the Americas.

Up until now the risk of the virus spreading in Europe remained low, as the climate is not suitable to the mosquito during the winter and spring months.

Typically, the mosquitoes inhabit regions that have an average summer temperature of 15 to 30 C (60 to 85 F) and an average temperature in the winter of 0 C (32 F).

"There is currently no Zika virus outbreak in the European region and our risk assessment estimates the risk for late spring and summer to be low to moderate," Cristiana Salvi, communication officer, WHO/Europe said.

The only reported cases of the Zika virus in Europe have come from travelers returning to the country after visiting an area that has been affected by the virus.

However, the more the virus spreads throughout the Americas, the greater the risk becomes to European countries as people travel back and forth.

Those who plan to travel to either of those regions are recommended to take precautions based on information issued by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Three European countries -- France, Italy and Portugal -- are among eight countries that have reported person-to-person transmission of the virus via sexual contact, as reported by ABC News.

"[Zika] is referred to as the silent infection," Iveta Dubravec, MD, Spectrum Health Medical Group Travel Medicine Services said. "Eighty percent of patients are asymptomatic and have no visible illness."

Dubravec believes that medical surveillance is key in educating the public to be vigilant. Taking prevention seriously is a key component to preventing the disease from spreading, experts say.