Zika: WHO raises alarm as virus spreads speedily

Zika: WHO raises alarm as virus spreads speedily

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the Zika virus, linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil, is “spreading explosively” and can infect as many as four million people.

The WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, said this at a meeting on Friday with the agency’s executive board in Geneva, adding that the spread of the mosquito-borne disease had gone from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.

She said that to help determine its response, WHO would convene an emergency meeting on Monday, because the level of alarm was extremely high.
Chan told the Geneva gathering that in 2015, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it was now spreading explosively.
She stressed that as of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region.

She recalled that WHO was criticised in 2015 for reacting too slowly to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which killed more than 10,000 people, and it promised to cut its response time.
“We are not going to wait for the science to tell us there is a link with birth defects.

“We need to take actions now,” Chan said, referring to the condition called microcephaly in which babies were born with abnormally small heads and brains that have not developed properly.

Chan promised a quick action from the WHO, stressing that this has become urgent because there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is like dengue and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes.

“An estimated 80 per cent of people infected have no symptoms.

“Much of the effort against the illness focuses on protecting people from mosquitoes and reducing mosquito populations,” she said.

Meanwhile, WHO Assistant Director, Bruce Aylward, said there was no confirmation yet in the area of vaccines.

He said there were no indications if there had been some work done by some groups looking at the feasibility of a Zika virus vaccine.
Aylward said it would take six to nine months to confirm whether Zika was the actual cause of the birth defects, or if the two were just associated.

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