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Jan 29, 2016

Spreading Zika Virus Raises Global Alarm

Margaret Chan

There is global concern tonight about the ZIKA virus which is spreading quickly throughout the region. Last week, we spoke with Doctor Marvin Manzanero of the Ministry of Health about the virus which has the same symptoms as dengue or chikungunya and for which there is no particular treatment or vaccine. The effect of the disease is that babies are being born with which causes brain defects and neurological problems in newborns. On Thursday, the World Health Organization announced that it will hold an emergency meeting of experts on Monday to decide if the virus outbreak should be declared an international health emergency. Doctor Margaret Chan told the gathering that the level of alarm is extremely high. Chan outlined the areas of concern for the organization.

 

Dr. Margaret Chan, World Health Organization

“Last year the virus was detected in the Americas where it is now spreading explosively. As of today, cases have been reported in twenty-three countries and territories in the region. The level of alarm is extremely high. Arrival of the virus in some places has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads. A cultural relationship between zika virus infection and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established; this is a very important point, but it is strongly suspected. The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of zika from a mile threat to one of alarming proportions. The increased incidents of microcephaly is particularly alarming as it places a heartbreaking burden on families and communities. WHO is deeply concerned about this rapidly involving situation for four main reasons. First, the possibly 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 affect areas; and fourth, the absence of vaccines, specific treatments and the absence of rapid diagnostic tests. Moreover, conditions associated with this year’s El Nino weather pattern are expected to increase mosquito populations greatly in many places.”

 

In nearby Salvador, women have been asked not to get pregnant because of the consequences to newborns. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Zika virus has been declared a national health emergency and pregnant women are being warned to protect themselves from the aedes aegypti mosquito. While there is no confirmed case in Belize, the Ministry of Health says the potential is very high. 

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