Expats and travellers around the world are at risk from the dreaded Zika Virus, warns the World Health Organisation.
The virus is likely lying dormant in luggage and in infected travellers and could spread to the US and across Europe as winter temperatures warm up.
The virus is linked to birth defects and is sexually transmitted – but the bugs are likely to be transported across borders stowing away in baggage.
Thousands of cases are already reported in Latin America, but the illness knows no borders and will appear in more countries, says the WHO.
Cases are already under treatment in the USA and Ireland and more are likely, say doctors and scientists desperately trying to contain the outbreak for which there is no known cure.
The virus is spread by the bite of the tiny Aedes mosquito, which is not a native species to Europe or North America.
Although the virus is expected to infect millions in Latin America, the first discovery was in the Zika Forest in Uganda, Africa, which gives the illness its name.
The nearest European home for the mosquito is the popular holiday island of Madeira, where an outbreak of the virus in 2012 led to more than 2,000 cases.
A variant of the Aedes mosquito is also found around the Mediterranean coasts of France and Spain.
Men are not affected by the bite, but can carry the virus and transmit the bug onwards by having sex.
Spread by travellers
Pregnant women are particularly at risk, hence the illness showing as birth defects such as babies with abnormally small heads.
In Latin America, health services are mobilising against the threat, and in Brazil, thousands of soldiers are calling door-to-door in some cities to warn people of the danger.
“Any country where the mosquito lives holds a risk for the Zika Virus,” said a WHO spokesman.
“We know many travellers infected with the virus have returned to Europe and the USA from overseas, but the disease is contained as the mosquito is inactive because of the colder weather.
“The worry is that as temperatures warm later in the year, the mosquitos will come out of hibernation and the virus could spread from them.”