Daily Management Review

World Health Organisation says Zika Virus Spreading 'Explosively'


World Health Organisation says Zika Virus Spreading 'Explosively'
Alarmed at the “explosive” spread of the Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Latin America, the World Health Organisation has convened an emergency committee to discuss the issue.
“Last year the disease was detected in the Americas, where it is spreading explosively,” Margaret Chan, the WHO director general, said at a special briefing in Geneva.
She added that the virus has now been detected in 23 countries in the Americas and the situation was “deeply concerning”.
Marcos Espinal, an infectious disease expert at the WHO’s Americas regional office said that three to four million cases of Zika can be expected, though he gave no time frame for these figures.
Many of the governments have advised pregnant women against going to the areas where it has been detected. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a serious condition that can cause lifelong developmental problems and there is no vaccine or cure for Zika.
 “The level of alarm is extremely high. Arrival of the virus in some cases has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads,” Chan said.
“A causal relationship between Zika virus and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established – this is an important point – but it is strongly suspected,” she added.
The risk profile of Zika has rapidly changed due to the possible links from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions. A heartbreaking burden on families and communities is placed by the increased incidence of microcephaly which is particularly alarming Chan said.
“First - the possible association of infection with birth malformations and neurological syndromes. Second - the potential for further international spread given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquito vector. Third, the lack of population immunity in newly affected areas. Fourth, the absence of vaccines,” Chan said while outlining four reasons for the alarm.
Chan added that mosquito populations are expected to spread due to this year’s El Niño weather patterns.
“For all these reasons, I have decided to convene an emergency committee under the international health regulations,” she said.
Advise on the international responses and specific measures in affected countries and elsewhere would be given after the meeting of the committee which is scheduled to be held on Monday.
Nearly 4,000 cases of babies with microcephaly have been registered since September. Focusing on getting rid of the insect’s breeding grounds, the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has pledged to wage war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the virus.
Zika has an “explosive pandemic potential” warned Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert from Georgetown University.
“With the Rio Olympics on our doorstep I can certainly see this having a pandemic potential,” said Gostin, a member of a commission that criticised the WHO for its response to Ebola speaking to the BBC’s World Service.
He said every review of the WHO’s response to Ebola found that it was “too little, too late”.
“I’m disappointed that the WHO has not been acting proactively. They have not issued any advice about travel, about surveillance, about mosquito control,” he said.
Yellow fever and dengue are related to Zika.  What makes it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected by Zika is the fact that nearly 80% of the people who have the virus have no symptoms.