Everyone is clinging onto every bit of news released about the Zika virus and they should. It is a disease without an easy prevention strategy, no known cure and now everyone in the Americas is nervous because of the link between the virus and the neurological disorders in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy.
The Zika virus was found in Brazil in May of 2015, but it was just on Monday that the international community stepped up and announced that the Zika virus’s associati on with birth defects is a “public health emergency of international concern.”
Since last May, when Zika first emerged in Brazil, more than 4,000 suspect cases of microcephaly have been reported in the country. Brazil’s total in previous years was only about 160 cases. However, the Zika virus has also been found in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and more than 25 countries and territories in the Americas region.
PAHO, who is WHO’s regional officer for the Americas has been working with affected countries since the first detection last year. They have been strengthening their abilities to detect the virus, gathering experts to assess current knowledge of the Zika virus and supporting efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
As of now, prevention methods are using insect repellant, staying indoors behind screens and closed doors and wearing clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. One more prevention method is covering containers that hold water.
Mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus are truly “problems without passports” that require cooperation among governments and sectors to keep people safe. This is especially important when there are no currently available universal prevention strategies – like a vaccine – and no known cures.
Margaret Chan, the head of WHO called independent health experts together this week to discuss how to come together as a global community to accelerate response and reduce the spread of the virus. This global platform is called International Health Regulations. After their meeting, they advised that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurologic disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” and provided concrete advice to global and local actors to address.
Fundamentally, the spread of the Zika virus has also highlighted the need to make sure girls and women around the world have access to quality reproductive and sexual health care, including counseling during their pregnancies.
Do you feel like there is enough being done? Are you taking precautions for the Zika virus?