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Feb 1, 2016

Zika Declared an International Public Health Emergency

Turning to a health issue that has been making international headlines.  The World Health Organization today declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.  At least twenty-three countries in the region have been affected with Brazil being hardest hit. El Salvador has asked women not to get pregnant because of the threat by the virus. Earlier today, Canada joined the United States in issuing a travel advisory for pregnant women travelling to the Caribbean. The Canadian Public Health Agency says: “It is recommended that pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant discuss their travel plans with their health care provider to assess their risk and consider postponing travel to areas where the Zika virus is circulating in the Americas. If travel cannot be postponed then strict mosquito bite prevention measures should be followed to protect themselves against bites.” It added that this should be done particularly for those travelling to areas where Zika virus is circulating.  The main worry is over the virus’ possible link to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with brain damage and unusually small heads. The WHO has issued a video on frequently asked questions on the virus.


Erika Garcia

Erika Garcia, Epidemiologist, Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases, WHO

“Zika Virus is a virus that is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquitos, the aedes aegypti mosquito which is also the primary vector that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. This mosquito is found throughout different regions of the world. Through the Americas, Africa, Asia and also the pacific islands. There is no specific treatment for Zika virus disease and there is no vaccine; however, we have seen that most of the cases are mild or some of them do not even show any symptoms. However if you do have symptoms, you can take supportive therapy medicines to cure your headache or your muscle or joint paint. Travellers should follow their guidelines from their respective own countries as with all vector borne diseases. We do advise all travellers, all people living in subtropical and tropical areas to wear protective clothing. For pregnant women, we advice pregnant women to seek consultation with their physician. Well the best way to prevent yourself from getting bit by a mosquito is to use mosquito repellent or protective clothing during the peak hours of when the mosquitoes would bite, which is usually early in the morning and late in the afternoon. And also for children or the elderly or people that may be resting during the day, they can also use bed nets to also create another barrier between themselves and a mosquito.”

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