The Zika virus strain responsible for epidemics in Brazil has been detected in Africa for the first time, according to the World Health Organization.
The virus is currently circulating in Cape Verde, an archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa.
Zika causes neurological disorders, including in babies born with reduced brain.
Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of WHO for Africa, said: “This information will help African countries to reassess their risk level, to adapt and improve their levels of preparedness.“
She also said that African countries need to prevent pregnancy complications related to the Zika virus, and encourage people to protect themselves against mosquito bites and sexual transmission.
But she added that WHO was not recommending strict travel restrictions to try to stem the spread of the disease.
More than 7000 suspected cases of Zika are reported in Cape Verde. 180 pregnant women were infected. WHO reports three babies born with a brain suffering from microcephaly.
Before the virus is sequenced by scientists in Senegal, it was not certain that the epidemic in Cape Verde was caused by an African or Asian origin, like the one that hit Brazil and other countries of Latin America.
Tests show that this is the Asian strain, the same that has caused birth defects in Brazil.
1300 confirmed cases
About 1300 confirmed cases of microcephaly – of babies born with small brains – were recorded in Brazil, and thousands more under analysis.
A British researcher said that Zika virus had already been circulating at low levels in African countries for over 50 years. Part of the population would be perhaps already forearmed.
“It is likely that in South America, the populations of the Caribbean and Polynesia were not immunized before the virus, so a high proportion of people bitten by infected mosquitoes caught the disease,” said Dr. Anna Checkley, hospital for tropical diseases at University College London hospitals.