“Zika virus is no longer a global health emergency”
Women planning on getting pregnant might not need to change their holiday plans in the next couple of years, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced the Zika virus outbreak no longer poses a world health emergency. But it is warned the virus, which is linked to the deformations in babies’ heads and brains, still remains an epidemic challenge. “The Zika virus remains a highly significant and long term problem, but it is not any more a public health emergency of international concern,” says the world health body’s emergency committee chair Dr David Heymann. The WHO was careful not to dismiss the risk still posed by the virus, which has been detected in 73 countries worldwide, mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean. “We are not downgrading the importance of Zika, in fact by placing this as a longer term of programme of work, we’re sending the message that Zika is here to stay and WHO’s response is here to stay in a very robust manner,” adds Dr Peter Salama, director of the agency’s health emergencies programme. There are still, he added, “a lot of unknowns” in the battle against Zika. “Many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research.” However, Brazil - the epicenter of the outbreak has refused to downgrade the risk. “We will maintain the emergency (status) in Brazil until we are completely tranquil about the situation,” says Brazilian Health Minister Ricardo Barros.
More than 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika, mainly in Brazil since the outbreak which began mid last year.
And since last year, more than 1,600 babies have been born with microcephaly, according to the WHO, causing the UN’s global health agency to declare the Zika epidemic a global health emergency. In most cases worldwide, people have been infected with the virus by mosquitoes, though some have contracted the disease through sexual contact.
Researchers earlier this year warned that at least 2.6 billion people, over a third of the global population, live in parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific where Zika could gain a new foothold, with 1.2 billion at risk in India alone.
While Zika causes only mild symptoms in most people, it’s believed there is a link between pregnant women with the virus risk giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a deformation that leads to abnormally small brains and heads.
It can also cause rare adultonset neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which can result in paralysis and even death.
Two anti-Zika vaccines are currently being tested. Currently, there is no cure for Zika. (yahoonews)