Zika on the prowl: WHO declares emergency
- February 9, 2016
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Uncategorized
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) last week. In the past few years, confirmed cases have been reported from Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela. While the disease has been exceedingly reported in South America, it is likely to spread its reach in other countries soon and its potential proliferation has also become a problem because of the huge crowds of people expected to attend the Olympic Games in Rio in the coming months. So what exactly is the Zika virus and why is it a huge health risk?
The virus traces its nomenclature to the Zika forest in Uganda, Africa, where it had been first identified in rhesus monkeys in 1947. While it was reported in humans in 1952, it was unknown to the Americas until last year. This virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is also responsible for the spread of dengue and yellow fever (chikungunya).
The most common symptoms of this virus include fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms also include experiencing muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and vomiting. The virus causes a painful but temporary rash in adults and the illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. 1 in 5 people infected with the virus become ill.
While it is evident that this virus is not a radically new challenge, it must be mentioned that its present outbreak has been a cause for alarm because it was considered benign until recently when scientists, in November, 2015, linked it to an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly. Microcephaly is a rare and incurable condition in which babies’ heads are abnormally small. There is greater concern because there is no medicine as yet to treat Zika. The race for developing a vaccine for it is on and only last week, a Hyderabad-based company Bharat Biotech unveiled two vaccine candidates that could be developed to counter this virus. One of the vaccines is in the stages of pre-clinical trial on animals. If it succeeds in getting timely approvals and clearances, a vaccine for the virus may be available in the market in two years’ time.
The WHO declared the Zika virus outbreak as a PHEIC because it satisfies the conditions of the term. The term PHEIC is defined as an “extraordinary event” which constitutes a public health risk to other States through the international spread of the disease, and which calls for a coordinated international response.
This PHEIC has made nations issue travel advisories to many pregnant women to avoid travelling to parts affected by the Zika virus and many countries asking women to put off pregnancies till the time that an adequate response to the virus is determined. This outbreak and the response required will pose not only medical challenges but also social ones- for instance, in many countries where the virus is rampant, abortion and contraception are not encouraged since they are conservative. In such a situation, it would be difficult to control pregnancies and the subsequent risk of proliferation of the virus.
It can only be hoped that this virus is countered effectively, keeping health as a priority and not getting entangled in a politico-cultural milieu, for the enemy should not lie within…