Reaction and Recommendations from W.H.O and C.D.C. regarding Zika Virus

In an emergency meeting on Monday February 1st, the World Health Organization highlighted the urgent need for an international response to the rapidly growing outbreak of the Zika Virus, declaring it a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” The meeting was organized as cases of microcephaly in babies born to mothers who had contracted the Zika virus continue to rise in Brazil and other parts of South America.

Image via Flickr by coniferconifer

Though a scientific connection between the virus and microcephaly has not been established, the pattern of babies born with abnormally small heads and other birth defects after their mothers were diagnosed as having the virus is strong enough for the WHO committee to issue the declaration. The committee called for increased efforts to track the virus and any correlating physical and neurological disorders that might be associated. Additional recommendations included increased efforts to control mosquito populations and providing information regarding the virus to pregnant women to reduce risk of exposure.

Long-term responses outlined by the committee addressed the need for health services to prepare for a potential increase of neurological and congenital birth defects in areas where the virus is active, and intensifying research toward vaccination against the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Aedes species of mosquito can become infected by biting a person who has an active Zika infection, and once a mosquito is infected with the Zika virus, it passes the infection by biting other people. This is the primary form of transmission. Isolated cases of transmission through blood transfusion and sexual contact have been reported. A mother who becomes infected with the virus during pregnancy can pass it to her fetus, although the mode of transmission has not been determined.

For most people who contract the virus, the illness is not severe, with rash, joint and muscle pain, fever, headache, and conjunctivitis being typical symptoms which may last around a week. Blood tests can be used to diagnose the virus. Treatment is concentrated on alleviating the symptoms through rest, over-the-counter fever and pain relief medications, and increasing fluid intake.

Because of the possible additional danger of adverse effects on a fetus, the CDC is currently recommending that pregnant women consider postponing travel to areas where Zika transmission is active. Information from the White House regarding the Zika virus states that areas of active transmission currently include South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, and urges travelers to check frequently for updated areas of activity, as this information is likely to change.

With over 24 countries currently reporting active transmission of the disease, the CDC cautions that the virus will continue to spread and that returning travelers bringing the virus into the United States could result in local spread of the virus in some areas in the U.S. Early last week, President Obama met with officials from his health and national security teams regarding the spread of the virus and its potential effect on the United States.

On Tuesday the CDC confirmed a case of Zika virus transmission by sexual contact in Texas. All other cases reported in the United States are travelers who became infected while visiting an area of active outbreak and then returned to the United States. No cases of mosquito transmission have been reported in the United States at this time.

Because no vaccine currently exists for the Zika virus, the CDC urges all persons in areas of active virus transmission, especially pregnant women, to take active steps to avoid mosquito bites. These measures include:

  • Wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Stay in air conditioned buildings with closed doors and windows or in buildings with screens on windows or doors
  • Sleep under a mosquito net if such a shelter is not available
  • Use EPA registered insect repellents as directed
  • Do not use for children under 2 years of age
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin
  • Check CDC travel bulletins for areas of active virus transmission