Mexico health ministry downplays Zika threat to tourism

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s health ministry on Wednesday sought to play down any impact on its tourism industry from the mosquito-borne Zika virus, emphasizing the disease was under control and far from its main tourist centers.

The infection presents no risk for tourist activity, Alberto Diaz, a senior official from the health ministry, told tour operators during a meeting in Cancun, however conceding it was “inevitable” the virus would spread.

Mexico has so far confirmed 34 cases of Zika, up from 18 last week. It has not yet detected a case in a pregnant woman.

The virus has been tied to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, raising alarms as it spreads throughout the continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates Zika could eventually affect as many as 4 million people in the region.

Diaz, assistant director general of the government’s epidemiological institute, said the infection has led to few complications so far, and the Mexican government was following all WHO guidelines.

There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease, which causes mild fever, rash and red eyes - though about four-fifths of those infected have no symptoms.

Mexico is one of 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries and territories with a Zika-related travel alert from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prompting some expectant couples to steer clear of the region.

But the WHO has not recommended travel or trade bans with affected countries, Mexico emphasized. Analysts at J.P. Morgan estimated the virus would cause limited damage to the country’s airport operators, no greater than that from the 2009 H1N1 crisis.

Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Bernard Orr