ABU DHABI, 31st January, 2016 (WAM) — The alarming spread of the Zika virus in the Americas is now posing a deadly challenge to health experts. The seriousness of the matter can be gauged by the fact that the World Health Organisation has been forced to convene an emergency meeting on Monday to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
“An elusive vaccine to treat the disease has added to the worry,” said The Gulf Today in an editorial on Sunday.
“The tricky aspect is that most of those infected with the Zika virus do not even feel sick and exhibit relatively mild symptoms such as fever or joint pain. The major worries are about the dangers pregnant women and their babies face.
“Zika is now present in 23 countries and territories in the Americas. Brazil, the hardest-hit country, has reported around 3,700 cases of the devastating birth defect called microcephaly that is strongly suspected to be related to Zika. In May 2015, Brazil reported its first case of the Zika virus disease.
“The arrival of the virus in some countries of the Americas has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a poorly understood condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis.
“A causal relationship between the Zika virus infection and birth defects and neurological syndromes has not been established, but is strongly suspected. According to WHO officials, the present level of alarm over the virus is extremely high.
“The Zika virus was first isolated in 1947 from a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. Its historical home has been in a narrow equatorial belt stretching across Africa and into equatorial Asia. For decades, the disease, transmitted by the Aedes genus of mosquito, slumbered, affecting mainly monkeys. In humans, Zika occasionally caused a mild disease of low concern.
“Mosquitoes spreading the virus are now common in the Americas. The conditions associated with this year’s El Nino weather pattern are expected to increase the mosquito population greatly in many areas. Governmental organisations and WHO should strengthen surveillance systems in countries that have reported cases of Zika and of microcephaly and other neurological conditions that may be associated with the virus. Surveillance should also be increased in countries that are likely to be affected by the virus.
“Above everything else, what is needed is to prioritise the development of vaccines and new tools to control the mosquito population,” concluded the Sharjah-based daily.