Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Zika declared an international public health emergency by the WHO

Zika declared an international public health emergency by the WHO

Dr K K Aggarwal

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus infection an International public health Emergency owing to its link to thousands of birth defects in Brazil after a meeting of its Emergency Committee was convened to decide on the situation.

Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, stated that global action was required to accelerate work on improving diagnostics and developing a vaccine. However, she reiterated that trade and travel restrictions would not be necessary. The factors cited by her “First and foremost the big concern about microcephaly,” and that “it is strongly suspected [that Zika causes microcephaly] but not yet scientifically proven.”

This is the fourth global health emergency declared by the WHO since 2007, previous ones being influenza in 2007, Ebola in 2009 and polio resurgence in 2014.

This year, Olympics are scheduled to be held in August in Brazil. But the WHO has said:

  • The games face no risk of cancellation due to Zika virus infection.
  • Unless pregnant, there is zero risk.
  • Pregnant women can consider delaying travel but use of mosquito repellant and cover is required.
  • About 3,700 suspected microcephaly cases have been reported in Brazil, but Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said that it was worse than thought as 80% of infected people had no symptoms.
  • Clinical symptoms are similar to dengue and usually mild. Because, Zika is spread by the same mosquito, there is a fear that Zika would spread to parts of the world where dengue is prevalent.
  • This is a very different situation from Ebola where people would need to be stopped at the border.

Altogether it would be wise to heed and track the WHO’s statements on the issue in real time.

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