Watch out for Zika

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end to its global health emergency over the spread of the Zika. The infection has been linked to severe birth defects in almost 30 countries. These include microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads and restricted brain development. The WHO says more than 2,100 cases of nervous-system malformations have been reported in Brazil alone. Although the virus is mostly spread by mosquitoes, it can also be sexually transmitted. So, all pregnant women are asked to take precaution when travelling to Latin America or South East Asia. Here is more from New York Times.

An agency advisory committee said it ended the emergency — formally known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — because Zika is now shown to be a dangerous mosquito-borne disease, like malaria or yellow fever, and should be viewed as an ongoing threat met as other diseases are, sometimes with W.H.O. help. Committee members repeatedly emphasized that they did not consider the Zika crisis over. “We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,” said Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program. “We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the W.H.O. response is here to stay.”Like all mosquito-borne diseases, Zika is seasonal and may repeatedly return to countries with the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry it, Dr. Salama added.

Since the W.H.O. first declared a state of emergency on Feb. 1, the Zika virus has spread to almost every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada. Thousands of babies suffer deformities caused by the infection, and more are expected.Recent outbreaks and related birth defects have also been detected in Southeast Asia, although scientists believe the Zika virus has circulated there for decades.The most severe deformity is microcephaly, a tiny head with a severely underdeveloped brain; but fetuses have also been killed by the virus, and infected infants have been born blind, deaf, with clubbed feet and permanent limb rigidity.Scientists also fear that many infected babies who appear normal now may suffer from intellectual deficits or mental illnesses later in their lives.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed no opinion about the W.H.O.’s decision, but noted that it “did not change the urgent need to continue our work.”The agency also reiterated the warning it issued in January that pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas where the virus was being transmitted.