Zika Virus’ Rapid Spread Over Last Year Lays Bare Global Unpreparedness in Handling Epidemics

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A new report by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says the mosquito- borne Zika virus has spread rapidly throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean, in a deadly turn of events after it was first detected in Brazil in 2015.The report also stated that by the end of 2016, 48 countries and territories in theAmericas, which is an encompassing term and includes both North and South America, had fallen prey to the virus. More than 532,000 reported cases of the virus had been suspected with 175,063 confirmed cases. An additional 22 countries had reported 2439 cases of congenital disorders associated with Zika.

The Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito

Highlighting the global concern over the deadly Flavivirus, the report confirmed that Zika had spread increasingly rapidly and noted that while before 2015, minor outbreaks in Micronesia and french Polynesia had been noted, the mosquito-borne had been confirmed to be also sexually transmissible and to cause birth defects, including microcephaly, which results in very small heads in infants and isa congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.

PAHO’s Director Carissa F. Etienne stated that no one would have imagined two years ago that children would be affected by microcephaly and that a lot of work was still to be done to combat Zika. The virus was first noted in Brazil in May 2015. In order to better combat this deadly virus, the scientific community had to be provided with more affordable tools and a better and more effective diagnostic test for the Zika virus had to be instituted. The report alsostressed upon the need to innovate in combating vectors and the fact that Zika had first been confirmed as a separatedisease when authorities had been preparing to meet the challenges of Ebola and Chikungunya.

The Zika viral disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by infected female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes but also via unprotected sexual intercourse. Symptoms of the disease include, but are not limited to, fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain and severeheadaches all of which usually last for two to seven days. The bad news is that the disease has nospecific treatment or vaccine currently available. The virus is now confirmed to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. Experts now consider Zika to be a long-term public health challenge and this view has been echoed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well.

File photo of an infant with microcephaly

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), founded in 1902, is the world’s oldest international public health agency. It provides technical cooperation and mobilises partnerships to improve health and quality of life in the countries of the Americas. It is part of the UN system and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the WHO as well. The PAHO is renowned for being the watchdog of health and safety of the Americas and associated countries.

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