ALL aircraft returning to the UK from countries affected by the Zika virus are to be sprayed with insecticide as a "highly precautionary measure" to protect passengers.
The Department for Transport confirmed the move as it emerged that the first case of the infection in a pregnant woman in Europe has been detected in Spain. The woman had recently returned from Colombia.
It comes days after two adults in Ireland tested positive for the Zika virus. No cases have been confirmed so far in the UK.
The Government is asking airlines to ensure that all planes arriving back in the UK from Zika outbreak zones are sprayed with insecticide on landing to reduce the risk of passengers being bitten by any mosquitoes that could have entered the aircraft.
Spraying already occurs on the majority of flights from the region as a precaution against malaria.
The virus has been widely detected in Central and South America, as well as popular Caribbean holiday destinations such as Barbados and the Dominican Republic.
It is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito and while the symptoms of infection are mild, the virus is believed to pose a danger to pregnant women after it was linked to a surge in cases of microcephaly in newborns – babies born with abnormally small heads.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: “Disinsection is a highly precautionary measure to reduce the risk to passengers during flights to the UK.
“I want to reassure people that the risk to the UK population is extremely low.
"We advise people travelling to affected areas to reduce the risk of themselves being bitten by wearing mosquito repellent, long sleeves and trousers.
"Pregnant women should consider avoiding travel to countries with the Zika virus – or if travel is unavoidable, they ought to seek travel health advice from their GP or a travel clinic well in advance of their trip.”
The government has also announced a further £1 million funding for research to tackle the Zika virus.
The money from the Global Challenges Research Fund will provide grants for researchers investigating the nature of the virus, how it is passed on, and the potential links to conditions including microcephaly.