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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Thursday, April 19, 2018

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WHO declares public health emergency over Zika virus

WHO estimates there could be up to 4 million cases

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GENEVA -- The World Health Organisation Monday declared an international emergency over the Zika virus, blamed for causing a surge in brain-damaged babies being born in the Americas region.> Big News Network

The UN agency took the rare step after the International Health Regulation Emergency Committee agreed that a causal link between this cluster and Zika virus disease is strongly suspected. It constitutes an 'extraordinary event' and a public health threat to other parts of the world," the UN body said in a statement..

"The recent cluster of neurological disorders and neonatal malformations reported in the Americas region constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern," WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said.

"After a review of the evidence, the committee advised that the clusters of microcephaly and other neurological complications constitute an extraordinary event and public health threat to other parts of the world."

WHO estimates there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in the Americas in the next year.

Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. . It takes its name from the Zika forest in Uganda. It is spread via mosquitoes and is similar to dengue fever and the West Nile virus.

Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. Until last year, it wasn't believed to cause any serious effects; about 80 percent of infected people never experience symptoms

The symptoms include fever, headache, conjunctivitis, rash, myalgia, and arthralgia. It is generally mild and self-limiting, lasting between four and seven days - but the incubation period can last up to 12 days. In rarer cases, Zika virus sufferers may come down with abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation and dizziness.

The virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes muscle weakness and nerve problems.

Monday's emergency meeting of 18 independent experts and advisers was called in response to the spike in babies born with microcephaly in Brazil since the virus was first detected there last year. Officials in French Polynesia also documented a connection between Zika and neurological complications when the virus was spreading there two years ago, at the same time as dengue fever.

Having faced wide criticism in 2014 for its slow response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, in which over 11,000 people died, this time WHO is taking no chances by declaring an international health emergency to step up focus and action.

"If indeed, the scientific linkage between Zika and microcephaly is established, can you imagine if we do not do all this work now and wait until the scientific evidence comes out?" Chan said. "Then people will say, 'Why didn't you take action?'"

in assessing the level of threat, the experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association, in time and place, between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries were viewed with concern.

So far no advisory on travel or trade in the regions witnessing continuing spread of Zika virus disease has been issued.

"It is important to understand, there are several measures pregnant women can take," Chan said. "If you can delay travel and it does not affect your other family commitments, it is something to consider."

WHO officials say it could be six to nine months before science proves or disproves any connection between the virus and babies born in Brazil or elsewhere with abnormally small heads.

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