The virus has been related to microcephaly and other neurological disorders in newborns
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of Zika virus and related neurological diseases as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The decision was announced by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan after an emergency committee meeting in Geneva.
French Polynesia, Brazil and El Salvador have witnessed outbreaks of Zika. More than 20 countries have reported cases. Over 4,000 people have been affected by microcephaly (a neurological disease related to Zika) in Brazil alone, with 38 reported fatalities. No vaccine or specific treatment is available for Zika.
“A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy,” said Chan.
Right now, there is no vaccine or specific treatment available for Zika. The only preventive measure is to avoid getting bitten by the Aedes mosquitoes that transmit the virus.
Zika virus was earlier believed to have symptoms such as fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. However, the increase in number of microcephaly cases in newborns in affected countries has lead experts to suspect a link with Zika virus. Studies to confirm the relation between the two are underway in affected countries, WHO said.
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