Public health officials said on Thursday on Jan. 28, 2016, that they’re concerned about the fast-spreading Zika virus, and they’re speeding up to understand its relationship to the troubling rise in birth defects seen in Brazil and other countries.
“The level of alarm is extremely high,” said Margaret Chan, MD, director-general of the World Health Organization, as she briefed the executive board.
Chan said she was worried about four reasons and about the rapidly evolving situation. The four reasons are:
– The virus has been connected to severe birth defects, including babies born with brain damage, who were born from already infected mothers.
– The mosquito that carries the virus, the yellow fever mosquito, was found in almost every country in North and South America except Chile and Canada.
– People in these countries have very little natural immunity to the virus in the general population because they’ve never been exposed to the virus before.
Chan said the WHO will meet on Monday to decide whether to declare an international public health emergency in response to Zika, a move that would step up international efforts to fight it.
Bruce Aylward, MD, assistant director-general of the WHO, predicts that over the next 12 months there will be 3 million to 4 million Zika infections in the Americas.
In a separate press briefing held by the CDC, U.S. officials admitted that they didn’t know the answers, and that there were more questions than answers about the virus right now.
“We know many people are concerned or scared,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director of the CDC.
Schuchat said that the most people aren’t in any serious danger from the virus that is carried by mosquitoes, which we all know was given the name – Zika.
She added that the thing that most worries the health officials, is that is that “increasing lines of evidence suggest that some women infected with Zika during their pregnancies may go on to deliver a baby with a serious brain injury.”
The CDC has issued a travel warning for women who want to become pregnant or are already pregnant covering 24 nations and territories in Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
At the moment, Mr.Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that there’s no sign that mosquitos in the U.S. have the virus.
The latest cases in the country were 31 people in 11 states and the District of Columbia, according to the CDC, and all the people were travelers returning from areas where the infection is being passed locally from mosquitoes to people. Inside the continental U.S. hasn’t yet happened for someone to report such an infection. So far there are 19 confirmed infections in Puerto Rico and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the officials aren’t sure if those were locally acquired or not, and thereby these cases are still under investigation.
Officials expect that the local spread of the virus will eventually happen in the U.S., but probably in areas that already have been reported a similar infections, like like the southern tips of Florida and Texas, Fauci said. Dengue is similar to the Zika virus because is carried by the same species of mosquito.
Fauci said that even though Zika’s origin is from U.S., it’s not likely to cause widespread misery the way it has in Brazil, the main part because in U.S people use air conditioners more often and use screens on their windows and doors.
And the thing is that 4 out of 5 people who are infected won’t even have symptoms, and others have only mild symptoms, including a rash, joint pain, fever, and red eyes.
“Most of these are very mild illnesses,” Schuchat said. “For the average American who is not traveling, this is not something to worry about.”
Since late October, in Brazil were reported more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that stunts the growth of a baby’s brain and head. This condition is linked to a shorter lifespan, and the children with microcephaly have some degree of mental disability.
Only six cases in Brazil have been definitively linked to Zika, and there are many more cases that the cause is still unknown and is under investigation. The most important and worryingly thing is no one knows how the virus might be causing microcephaly or other birth defects though other viruses, like rubella, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus, which are all known for causing same problems.
“If you are pregnant, please take this seriously,” Schuchat said. “We recommend you consider postponing travel to a region with ongoing Zika virus transmission. If you must travel, or you live in an affected area, protect yourself against mosquito bites.”
At the end she advised that we should wear long sleeves and long pants, and use a mosquito repellent like DEET, which the CDC says is safe to use during pregnancy.