This week, US President Barack Obama called for urgent action to combat it, and Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, called for the eradication of the mosquito that carries it. Meet the Zika virus, which causes pregnant mothers to give birth to babies with small heads and underdeveloped brains.
The latest Zika virus outbreak has sparked panic and fear, with the World Health Organisation (WHO), which held a special session on the outbreak this week, saying it would probably spread across all of North and South America. It is already found in 21 of that region’s countries.
Among Zika virus symptoms are a mild fever, headaches and conjunctivitis, but its biggest danger is the one it poses to unborn babies. Since October, there have been 3 893 reported cases of babies born with microcephaly – small craniums – in Brazil alone, compared with 160 in total in 2014. In the US, 12 cases have been confirmed.
Now, a number of Central and South American nations have asked women to delay falling pregnant until the virus can be brought under control.
US scientists say the virus has “explosive pandemic potential” and, in a US medical journal, called on the WHO to apply the lessons it learnt from the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa and convene an emergency committee of disease experts, the BBC reported.
Scientists said that although a vaccine may be ready for testing in only two years, it would not be publicly available for at least another decade.
NO VACCINE Gleyse Kelly holds her infant daughter Maria Geovana, who has microcephaly, this week in Recife, Brazil. Health authorities in the Brazilian state at the centre of a rapidly spreading Zika outbreak have been overwhelmed by the alarming surge in cases of babies born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder associated with the mosquito-borne virus
BREEDING mosquito larvae in a petri dish at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Brazil