Zika virus update

The virus is spreading at a “deeply concerning” rate, as it is predicted to infect between 3 – 4 million people in the Americas in 2016.

The Zika virus

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has convened an emergency committee (to be held on Monday 1st February) to discuss what action should be taken as the virus has now been detected in 23 countries in the Americas.

Margaret Chan, the WHO director general, outlined four reasons why she has convened an emergency committee, "First, the possible association of infection with birth malformations and neurological syndromes. Second, the potential for further international spread given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquito vector. Third, the lack of population immunity in newly affected areas. Fourth, the absence of vaccines."

The Guardian reported that the US has, "two potential candidates for a vaccine, and might begin clinical trials in people by the end of this year. But experts in disease control have warned they do not expect to have a vaccine available in 2016."

The director of National Institute of Allergy, Dr Anthony Fauci, said, "It is important to note that we will not have a widely available safe and effective Zika vaccine this year and probably not in the next few year." He went on to day that scientists may be able to start "a phased clinical trial in this calendar year."

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "For the average American who is not travelling this is not something they need to worry about. For people who are pregnant and considering travel to the affected areas, please take this seriously."

The mosquito-borne virus can be very mild, and an estimated 80% percent of people will not show any symptoms, making the virus very dangerous for pregnant women.

The World Health Organization has stated, "Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people."

This can be achieved by:

  • Using insect repellant
  • Sleeping under a mosquito net
  • Wearing long sleeves and trousers
  • Keeping outside areas free from waste items that can collect standing water
  • Pregnant women, or women planning on becoming pregnant avoiding traveling to areas where any mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria, the Zika virus or chikungunya occur

The countries effeted are: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, US Virgin Islands, Venezuela, Samoa and Cape Verde.

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