A leading Midlands consultant in infectious diseases from Coventry is advising pregnant women to reconsider their travel plans to countries affected by Zika virus.

Dr Ravi Gowda, a consultant with the Nuffield Hospital group and director of Travel Klinix in Coventry, a travel health advisory organisation, said the mosquito-carried disease, currently affecting areas in South America and the Caribbean, could also affect travel to the Rio 2016 Olympics.

“There are already cases of Britons returning to the UK from South America with the disease, which is said to be behind the rising number of babies being born with various congenital abnormalities, such as babies being born with brain deformities (some 4,000 in Brazil alone), although this link has yet to be confirmed,” said Dr Gowda.

The Zika virus, which is similar to dengue fever, is caused by a species of mosquito that attack during the day, unlike malaria-carrying mosquitos which bite at night.

Dr Gowda, a leading specialist in tropical diseases, said large numbers of visitors to Rio – and other countries affected – could contract the virus and then transmit the virus in countries where the Aedes mosquito is prevalent.

“I don’t wish to sound alarmist but these type of mosquitoes are primarily a day-to-day health issue for Brazilians, which is cause for continued attention and vigilance and I would suggest that pregnant women seek advice from health professionals  before venturing to affected areas.

“Although most of these infections are mild and self-limiting I would also advise people with chronic medical conditions or with weakened immune systems to also seek medical advice before travelling to these areas.”

There has been one reported case of the virus being transmitted by sexual intercourse as the virus has been detected in the semen for at least two weeks after infection. Dr Gowda therefore, also advises those planning a pregnancy, or who are already pregnant, to use a condom for 28 days after visiting a country with known transmission,  or for six months after recovering from an infection.