Zika virus


The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jamey Keaten and Mike Stobbe

The Zika virus is “spread­ing ex­plo­sively” in the Amer­i­cas, which could see up to 4mil­lion cases over the next year, in­ter­na­tional health of­fi­cials said, an­nounc­ing a spe­cial meet­ing next week to de­cide if they should de­clare an in­ter­na­tional health emer­gency. The mos­quito- borne virus has been linked to an in­crease in ab­nor­mally small heads in ba­bies— a birth de­fect called mi­cro­cephaly— in Brazil. Below, Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 27, holds her daugh­ter Maria Gio­vanna, who was born with mi­cro­cephaly, out­side their home.

geneva » The Zika virus is “spread­ing ex­plo­sively” in the Amer­i­cas, which could see up to 4 mil­lion cases over the next year, in­ter­na­tional health of­fi­cials said Thurs­day, an­nounc­ing a spe­cial meet­ing nex­tweek to de­cide whether they should de­clare an in­ter­na­tional health emer­gency.

The warn­ing from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion came amid a call to arms by of­fi­cials on both sides of the At­lantic over the mosquito­borne virus, which has been linked to a spike in a rare birth de­fect in Brazil.

Brazil’s pres­i­dent — not­ing there is no med­i­cal de­fense against the in­fec­tion — called for a cru­sade against the mos­qui­toes spread­ing it.

“As long as we don’t have a vac­cine against Zika virus, the war must be fo­cused on ex­ter­mi­nat­ing the mos­quito’s breed­ing ar­eas,” said Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff.

The U. N. health agency called the spe­cial ses­sion in part to con­vey its con­cern about an ill­ness that has sown fear among many would- be moth­ers. It may also have acted quickly be­cause the agency was crit­i­cized for its slow re­sponse to the Ebola epi­demic in West Africa.

Mean­while, U. S. health of­fi­cials said Thurs­day that while they have not yet seen spread of the dis­ease in the 50 states, the num­ber of U. S. trav­el­ers in­fected over the past year in the Caribbean or Latin Amer­ica has climbed to 31.

The Zika virus was first dis­cov­ered in Africa in 1947. But un­til last year, when it was found in Brazil, it had never been a threat in the Western Hemi­sphere.

The virus causes no more than a mild ill­ness in most peo­ple. But there is mount­ing ev­i­dence from Brazil sug­gest­ing in­fec­tion in preg­nant women is linked to ab­nor­mally small heads in their ba­bies— a birth de­fect called mi­cro­cephaly.

Ear­lier this month, U. S. health of­fi­cials ad­vised preg­nant women to post­pone vis­its to Brazil and other coun­tries in the re­gion with out­breaks.

“For the av­er­age Amer­i­can who’s not trav­el­ing, this is not some­thing they need to worry about,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the U. S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

“( But) for peo­ple who are preg­nant and con­sid­er­ing travel to the af­fected ar­eas, please take this se­ri­ously,” she said. “It’s very im­por­tant for you to un­der­stand thatwe don’t know as much as we want to know about this yet.”

In Geneva, WHO Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Dr. Mar­garet Chan noted it had been less than a year since the virus ar­rived in the Amer­i­cas, “where it is now spread­ing ex­plo­sively.”

Al­though there is no defini­tive proof that the Zika virus is be­hind the spike in brain de­fects in Brazil, “the level of alarm is ex­tremely high,” she added.

“The pos­si­ble links, only re­cently sus­pected, have rapidly changed the risk pro­file of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarm­ing pro­por­tions,” Chan said.

Re­searchers are also look­ing into a po­ten­tial tie be­tween Zika in­fec­tions and cases of Guil­lain- Barre syn­drome, which can cause tem­po­rary paral­y­sis.

Ac­cord­ing to the CDC, the Zika virus is now in more than 20 coun­tries, trans­mit­ted by the same mos­quito that spreads other trop­i­cal ill­nesses such as dengue and yel­low fever.

Syl­vain Aldighieri, head of WHO’s epi­demic re­sponse team in the Amer­i­cas, es­ti­mated there could be 3 mil­lion to 4 mil­lion Zika in­fec­tions in the re­gion over the next year. He said the agency ex­pects “huge num­bers” of in­fec­tions be­cause of the wide­spread pres­ence of the Aedes mos­qui­toes that spread Zika and be­cause peo­ple in the re­gion have no nat­u­ral im­mu­nity.

The same mos­quito species spread­ing Zika in Latin Amer­ica is also found in the South­ern United States. How­ever, U. S. health of­fi­cials re­it­er­ated Thurs­day they don’t think the United States is vul­ner­a­ble to a wide­spread out­break of the Zika virus.

WHO warned China and all other coun­tries that have dengue fever to be on the look­out for Zika in­fec­tions. The agency said it could be many years be­fore a vac­cine is avail­able, and it might take six to nine months be­fore there’s any data show­ing a causal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Zika and the ba­bies born with mal­formed heads.

Mon­day’s spe­cial ses­sion does not guar­an­tee that a global emer­gency will be de­clared — WHO has held 10 such meet­ings to as­sess the Middle East­ern res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome coro­n­avirus and no emer­gency has been an­nounced.

Declar­ing a global emer­gency is akin to an in­ter­na­tional SOS sig­nal and usu­ally brings more money and ac­tion to ad­dress an out­break. The last such emer­gency was an­nounced for the dev­as­tat­ing 2014 Ebola out­break in West Africa, which even­tu­ally ended up killing over 11,000 peo­ple. Po­lio was de­clared a sim­i­lar emer­gency the year be­fore.

Mar­cos Espinal, WHO’s di­rec­tor of in­fec­tious dis­eases in the Amer­i­cas re­gion, said Brazil is con­duct­ing stud­ies to de­ter­mine if there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that Zika virus causes birth de­fects and neu­ro­log­i­cal prob­lems. More than 4,000 sus­pected cases have been re­ported in Brazil since Oc­to­ber. How­ever, tests so far have shown hun­dreds of them were not mi­cro­cephaly. Brazil­ian au­thor­i­ties es­ti­mate the coun­try could have up to 1mil­lion Zika in­fec­tions by now. Most in­fected peo­ple don’t get sick and those who do mostly suf­fer mild symp­toms such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

The out­break has mostly been in the poor and un­der­de­vel­oped north­east, but the pros­per­ous south­east, where Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are lo­cated, is the na­tion’s se­cond hard­est- hit re­gion.

There is no treat­ment or vac­cine for Zika, which is in the same fam­ily of viruses as dengue.

Felipe Dana, The As­so­ci­ated Press

A pa­tient suf­fer­ing from the Guil­lain- Barre neu­ro­log­i­cal syn­drome re­cov­ers in the neu­rol­ogy ward of the Ros­ales Na­tional Hos­pi­tal in San Salvador, onWed­nes­day. Health au­thor­i­ties have is­sued a na­tional alert against the Aedes ae­gypti mos­quito vec­tor of the Zika virus which might cause mi­cro­cephaly and Guil­lain- Barré syn­drome. Marvin Recinos, AFP

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