Jan 28, 2015 (GENEVA) The World Health Organization (WHO) director has called for an emergency committee to respond to Zika virus spread in the Americas. There has been an observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations, such as small brain sized at birth. WHO believes that this might be related.
The first case was reported last may by Brazil, and since it has spread to many of the nations in the Americas. The United States has seen a few cases, imported by people who have travelled to affected areas.
What is Zika?
It is a virus, that is transmitted by an Aedes Aegyptus Mosquito, the same that causes yellow fever. It causes “mild fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain.” This is according to the WHO. It is called Zika since it was first isolated in 1947 outside a forest by the same name in Uganda, Africa. It has remained mostly in Africa all this time.
According to WHO this is how the disease develops:
The most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are mild fever and exanthema (skin rash), usually accompanied by conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain, and general malaise that begins 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.
One out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease. Among those who do, the disease is usually mild and can last 2-7 days. Symptoms are similar to those of dengue or chikungunya, which are transmitted by the same type of mosquito. Neurological and autoimmune complications are infrequent, but have been described in the outbreaks in Polynesia and, more recently, in Brazil. As the virus spreads in the Americas, giving us more experience with its symptoms and complications, it will be possible to characterize the disease better.
The virus generally speaking needs a mosquito, why vector control is essential. Though there is one not confirmed case of probable sexual contact since it can be found in semen.
Health authorities do not know if it can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, but it is believed it can lead to abortions and fetal malformations, including neurological issues.
We are posting in full the WHO vector control guidelines. They also work for yellow fever since it is meant to control the same mosquito.
What measures should be taken to prevent Zika virus infection?
Prevention involves reducing mosquito populations and avoiding bites, which occur mainly during the day. Eliminating and controlling Aedes aegypti mosquito breeding sites reduces the chances that Zika, chikungunya, and dengue will be transmitted. An integrated response is required, involving action in several areas, including health, education, and the environment.
To eliminate and control the mosquito, it is recommended to:
- Avoid allowing standing water in outdoor containers (flower pots, bottles, and containers that collect water) so that they do not become mosquito breeding sites.
- Cover domestic water tanks so that mosquitoes cannot get in.
- Avoid accumulating garbage: Put it in closed plastic bags and keep it in closed containers.
- Unblock drains that could accumulate standing water.
- Use screens and mosquito nets in windows and doors to reduce contact between mosquitoes and people.
To prevent mosquito bites, it is recommended that people who live in areas where there are cases of the disease, as well as travelers and, especially, pregnant women should:
- Cover exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and hats
- Use repellents recommended by the health authorities (and apply them as indicated on the label)
- Sleep under mosquito nets.
People with symptoms of Zika, dengue, or chikungunya should visit a health center.
What is PAHO/WHO’s response in the Americas?
PAHO/WHO is working actively with the countries of the Americas to develop or maintain their ability to detect and confirm cases of Zika virus infection, treat people affected by the disease, and implement effective strategies to reduce the presence of the mosquito and minimize the likelihood of an outbreak. PAHO/WHO’s support involves:
- Building the capacity of laboratories to detect the virus in a timely fashion (together with other collaborating centers and strategic partners).
- Advising on risk communication to respond to the introduction of the virus in the country.
- Controlling the vector by working actively with the populace to eliminate mosquito populations.
- Preparing recommendations for the clinical care and monitoring of persons with Zika virus infection, in collaboration with professional associations and experts from the countries.
- Monitoring the geographic expansion of the virus and the emergence of complications and serious cases through surveillance of events and country reporting through the International Health Regulations channel.
- Supporting health ministry initiatives aimed at learning more about the characteristics of the virus, its impact on health, and the possible consequences of infection.