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Photograph: Photo by Day Donaldson, used under CC BY

There is a low to moderate risk that the Zika virus will spread in Europe during late spring and summer, the World Health Organization said Wednesday in a new assessment.

The likelihood of transmission would be high in a few areas where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that can carry Zika are present, but only if health authorities there were to take no measures to fight these insects and detect infections, WHO said in a report.

These areas are the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic, as well as Russian and Georgian coastal regions on the north-eastern Black Sea.

The UN health agency added that 18 mostly Mediterranean countries would have a moderate likelihood of the virus spreading there, given the presence of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, another potential carrier.

This group includes Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey.

"We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak,” WHO's European regional chief Zsuzsanna Jakab said.

For its overall risk assessment, WHO considered not only the likelihood of a spread, based on environmental factors, but also countries' capacities to respond to a possible Zika outbreak.

"The results show that across the WHO European Region the risk is low to moderate during late spring and summer," the health agency said in a statement.

Only five European countries are not well prepared, WHO said, without disclosing these countries.

Most countries have strategies in place to decrease mosquito populations, to detect Zika cases, to analyze them in laboratories and to inform their populations in case of an outbreak, according to WHO.

The UN health agency did not give any travel warnings for Europe as there is currently no Zika transmission on the continent, but it said it may issue travel advice to pregnant women if this situation changes.

Zika only causes harmless flu symptoms in most cases, but the current outbreak in Latin America has shown that it can also lead to serious neurological defects in babies and adults.

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