The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an international public state of emergency on the Zika virus currently spreading across South and North America.
Despite uncertainties about the disease, the WHO decided to take prompt action on the rising issue. The experts have attended an emergency meeting on February 1, 2016, to assess the virus outbreak, after a suspicious link has been noted between the arrival of the virus to Brazil last year, and an abrupt increase in the number of newborns with abnormally small head anomaly, the so-called microcephaly.
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The fast-spreading infection of Zika virus will require a fast and united response, said Margaret Chan, the WHO director general, as over 4 000 cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil only since October 2015: "I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in Latin America following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014 constitutes a public health emergency of international concern."
The WHO has put Zika virus in the same emergency category as Ebola virus. According to Chan, the highest priority is to protect pregnant women from the virus and manage the mosquitos responsible for spreading the disease. Pregnant woman have been advised to delay travel to the affected areas, seek advice from their health practitioners if residing in the affected regions and protect themselves from mosquito bites as much as possible using repellents.
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No vaccine or medication capable of stopping the Zika virus is currently known. The infection transmission can only be avoided by avoid the bite of the Aedes mosquitoes, responsible for spreading the infection.
The Zika virus will most likely "spread explosively" across most of the Americas, the WHO announced recently. More than 20 countries have already reported cases.
Infections are usually mild with no complications. On rare occasions, a paralysis disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, have been reported. However, there is a significant degree of threat to the unborn children, according to health experts.
"There is a long road ahead. As with Ebola, Zika has once again exposed the world's vulnerability to emerging infectious diseases and the devastation they can unleash. Alongside the emergency response that Zika necessitates, we must put in place the permanent reforms, health systems strengthening and proactive research agenda that are needed to make the global health system more resilient to the threat of future pandemics," said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.
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