WHO — The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Zika a global threat after a review of the cases in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014.
After a review of the evidence, the Committee advised that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes an “extraordinary event” and a public health threat to other parts of the world.
WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, on 1 February 2016, summarizes the outcome of the Emergency Committee on Zika during the first meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee on Zika virus and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations.
“I convened an Emergency Committee, under the International Health Regulations, to gather advice on the severity of the health threat associated with the continuing spread of Zika virus disease in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Committee met today by teleconference.”
In assessing the level of threat, the 18 experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association, in time and place, between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications.
The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better.
The experts also considered patterns of recent spread and the broad geographical distribution of mosquito species that can transmit the virus. The lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries were cited as further causes for concern.
In their view, a coordinated international response is needed to minimize the threat in affected countries and reduce the risk of further international spread. Members of the Committee agreed that the situation meets the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
“I have accepted this advice. I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” Dr Margaret Chan said.
She said a coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.
“The Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus,” she added.
At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.
- About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill (i.e., develop Zika).
- The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.
- The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
- Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for a few days but it can be found longer in some people.
- Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
- Deaths are rare.
- No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease (Zika).
- Prevent Zika by avoiding mosquito bites (see below).
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite mostly during the daytime.
- Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
When traveling to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes are found, take the following steps:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Zika symptoms and prevention culled from CDC