Leading doctor urges wealthy countries to wake up as there is no treatment or vaccine
Brazilian doctor warns that “Zika can break out anywhere” and calls for more research funding.
The Brazilian doctor who first linked the Zika virus to brain damage in babies has warned that rich countries are not safe from the disease,to increase research funding.
Obstetrician Adriana Melo was the first person to make the connection between an outbreak of Zika in Brazil and a surge in babies born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads.
Melo, who works at the heart of the outbreak in the northeast Brazilian city of Campina Grande, sent her first sample of amniotic fluid in for Zika tests on Nov 10, 2015.
The positive result — the first of many for mothers whose babies had the debilitating neurological condition — sparked a chain reaction of alarm.
It culminated in February, when the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency over the link between Zika and microcephaly.
Melo said the world has not done enough since then to understand and fight this “neglected” disease.
She urged wealthy countries to wakeupto recent findings that Zika, which is typically spread by tropical mosquitoes, can also be transmitted sexually, and possibly through other bodily fluids.
“We know there are other transmission vectors and that (Zika) can break out anywhere, in any country,” she said in Rio de Janeiro, on the sidelines of an international conference on the disease.
“It’s a disease that doesn’t interest rich countries much because they think it won’t reach them. But it’s a risk to underestimate this virus. I am very afraid of viruses,” she said.
There is currently no treatment or vaccine for the virus, whose mild, flu-like symptoms belie its potentially devastating side effects.
Brazil has been the country hit hardest by Zika, with 1.5 million people infected and more than 2,000 babies born with brain damage.
The disease, which originated in Africa, has swept Latin America and the Caribbean since it was first detected in Brazil last year.
“Traveler’s Zika” — cases brought back by people who spent time in affected countries — also reached Europe and the United States.
In July, US authorities announced that locally transmitted Zika cases had been detected in Florida.
Meanwhile, warnings were emerging that tropical mosquitoes were not the only vector for the disease.
In February 2016, theUS reported a case of sexual transmission in Texas. Dozens more followed.
Recent research indicates the virus could also be spread through tears or sweat.
It’s a disease that doesn’t interest rich countries much because they think it won’t reach them. But it’s a risk to underestimate this virus. I am very afraid of viruses.” Adriana Melo, obstetrician