Zika virus may turn into a pandemic
Countries in the Americas have already declared a state of emergency
Thousands of babies are being born with underdeveloped brains in Brazil and South America after the Zika virus spread at an alarming rate through the Americas.
The virus, which has spread to 23 countries, is a disturbing infection. It is spread by the female mosquito ‘Aedes aegypti’, and has a huge impact on babies developing in the womb and a surge in the deformity ‘microcephaly’, which causes heads to be below average in size.
Some areas have already declared a state of emergency. Doctors have described it as ‘a pandemic in progress’ and some are even advising women in affected countries to delay getting pregnant.
The ‘explosive’ spread of the Zika virus has caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to hold an emergency meeting in Geneva.
WHO officials have described Zika as ‘a mild threat to one of alarming proportions’.
Declaring a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ would establish Zika as a serious global threat and would mean that money, resources and scientific expertise would have to be immediately brought to bear on the problem in both South America and laboratories the world over.
The previous outbreak of Ebola in West Africa – which caused over 11,000 deaths -has already brought the WHO's actions under intense scrutiny.
The organization’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus were widely criticised and it was deemed to have been too slow to declare an emergency.
The Americas region is expected to see up to four million cases this year and experts also fear the warm weather system El Nino will fuel the outbreak by increasing the mosquito population.
Prof Peter Piot, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC: “WHO clearly dropped the ball responding to the Ebola crisis, it took about five months to declare Ebola in West Africa a public health emergency.
“By any means this [Zika] is a public health emergency with the sheer numbers of people who are coming down with a flu-like syndrome, but particularly the complications.”
On Wednesday, Dr Dipti Patel, director at National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), told the Daily Mail: “All travellers, especially pregnant women going to an area with active Zika virus transmission should ensure they seek travel health advice from their GP or a travel clinic well in advance of their trip and consult the NaTHNaC website for up to date information on current outbreaks and country information.
“We strongly advise all travellers to avoid mosquito bites and urge pregnant women to consider avoiding travel to areas reporting active Zika transmission.
“If travel to these areas is unavoidable, or they live in areas where Zika virus transmission is occurring, they should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures both during daytime and night-time hours.”