Luiz Alberto Machado- Quartely Americas, 02/04/2016
On Monday February 1, the World Health Organization/ (WHO) declared the Zika virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, an international public health emergency. The announcement follows the declaration by Brazil of a national public health emergency. An outbreak of the Zika virus was detected last year in Brazil. The virus has since been found in several countries in Latin America and, more recently, the United States. The main concern is over the virus’s link to microcephaly, a congenital condition where a child is born with a smaller than normal head size and impaired brain development.
The WHO declaration will allow for better coordination of actions and mobilization of the necessary funding in a global effort aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, as well as speeding up the research to develop a vaccine and new therapeutic drugs. Despite the real public health risk, it is important to avoid misinformation. At this point, there is no reason to cancel business or pleasure trips, but extra precautions must be taken by pregnant women, who should talk to a doctor before travelling to the most affected areas.
The Zika is not a new Ebola, its symptoms being similar to a mild flu in adults. The Zika virus is of course a matter of concern, given association with microcephaly in newborn babies. More data and standardized protocols are needed before the link – first discovered by Brazilian doctors – between the virus and such cases of abnormally small heads and brain damage can be fully clarified.