Zika Virus Is The New Ebola

  • WHO warns that there could be an estimated 3 to 4 million cases of the Zika virus in the next year.
  • Zika virus is being carried by mosquitos and is spreading to all parts of the Americas.
  • The Zika virus is very harmful to pregnant women as it can cause birth defects that cause the child to be born with an abnormally smaller head.
  • The WHO will convene on Monday to review evidence and offer recommendations on curbing Zika’s spread.

(CNN) [Breaking news update, published at 9:42 a.m. ET]

It is reasonable to estimate that there could be 3 million to 4 million cases of Zika virus in a 12-month period in the Americas, WHO official Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri said Thursday.

He cautioned that this is only an estimate, based on data regarding how a different virus — dengue — spreads, though he acknowledged the Zika virus is currently circulating with “very high intensity.”

He said the estimate covers all Zika infections, including people who might not report clinical symptoms.

The lack of any immunity to Zika virus and the fact the mosquitoes that spread it can be found most “everywhere in the Americas” — from the southern tip of Argentina to the southern United States — “explains the speed” of the Zika virus’s spread, Aldighieri said.

A WHO emergency committee meeting on the Zika virus to be convened Monday in Geneva will review evidence related to the virus and offer recommendations on curbing Zika’s spread and its possible association with neurological disorders, WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward said.

The panel also will try to ensure that member states don’t make inappropriate steps that would unnecessarily affect travel and trade, Aylward said.

Aylward and Aldighieri were speaking to reporters in Geneva.

[Original story, published at 9:06 a.m. ET]

The Zika virus “is now spreading explosively” around the Americas, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday, calling the level of alarm over the disease “extremely high.”

“The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told her organization’s executive board members. “We need to get some answers, quickly.”

The mosquito-borne disease is now in “23 countries and territories in the region,” according to Chan. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said Zika is in 24 nations.

While it’s been around in some form for decades, alarms have raised only recently about Zika’s connection with “birth malformations and neurological symptoms.”

Chan explained that, where the virus has arrived, there’s been a corresponding “steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome.” Having small heads can cause severe developmental issues and sometimes death. Guillain-Barre, meanwhile, is a rare autoimmune disorder that can lead to life-threatening paralysis.

There’s no doubt, then, that Zika virus poses a dire health threat to areas that are home to millions of people. What is far less clear is what to do about it.

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Pregnant Women, Their Babies at High Risk

After being first detected in 1947 in a monkey in Uganda, Zika was most often found along the equator from Africa into Asia. Nine years ago, new cases popped up in islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Last year, it made its way to the Americas — with already devastating results.

The number of cases there has grown exponentially, prompting significant public health measures aimed at curbing it and protecting those most endangered by it, particularly women who could become pregnant or who already are. Brazil alone has reported more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly — a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with small heads — in infants born to women infected with Zika during their pregnancies.

Chan called an emergency committee meeting to convene February 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, to talk about what health officials worldwide should do about the Zika virus.

U.S.-based researchers Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin had called for just such a meeting in an article published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, criticizing the World Health Organization for not stepping up sooner.

“The very process of convening the committee would catalyze international attention, funding, and research,” Lucey and Gostin wrote. “While Brazil, PAHO, and the CDC have acted rapidly, WHO headquarters has thus far not been proactive, given potentially serious ramifications.”

After Chan’s announcement about next week’s meeting, Gostin urged Chan to “urgently mobilize international resources to curb the rapid spread of Zika worldwide, including aggressive mosquito control, active surveillance, accelerated vaccine research and travel advisories for pregnant women.

“It is far better,” said the Georgetown University public health expert, “to be overprepared than to wait until a Zika epidemic spins out of control.”

With No Vaccine, Controlling Mosquitoes is Key

The meeting in Geneva will aim to pull together research and get experts’ recommendations on the next steps. Chan said she also wants “to prioritize areas where research is most needed.”

Right now, there are no vaccines to prevent Zika virus, which not only pregnant women but their fetuses can contract. Nor are there medicines to treat those who have it.

Efforts now are focused on containing Aedes albopictus, or the Asian tiger mosquito, which spreads the disease.

That type of mosquito can be found in the United States, though as of Thursday there had been no cases of the disease being transmitted in the country. All of the Zika cases in the U.S. were contracted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere.

And the regularly occurring global weather phenomenon known as El Niño is expected to make things worse by increasing mosquito populations, Chan said.

Still, controlling the number of mosquitoes in any specific locale is challenging. Microbiologist Brian Foy noted that Aedes mosquitoes “can replicate in flower vases and other tiny sources of water.”

Watch Johns Hopkins Medicine to learn more about Zika Virus here:

By Greg Botelho, CNN

Comments

  1. Dr. Clifford N. Alford

    Black Elderberry grows wiild all over the world, and kills any virus it comes in contact with including ebols, hanta, HIV and any other. Stock up on it now, and stop living in fear.

  2. maria rose

    Control of the mosquito population is essential what is going to happen at the Summer Olympus

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  4. Teresa

    Encroaching industrialization has mother nature and god in a constant balancing act. We will find a vaccine for this, however; there will be a new battle to replace every conquered one as long as man keep stripping the earth of it’s natural resources which is what keeps things in checks and balances.

  5. charles

    Thats because our government lets it be

  6. bob

    Zika does not kill 75% of the people it infects.

  7. Robert Schwartz Sr

    Anybody remember the men who died building the Panama Canal? We then let environmental idiots panic about DDT and got it banned with little evidence as to its’ problems. And now we have little control over any mosquito borne disease.

  8. walt fisher

    most warnings on the internet seem to be bullcrap. just saying.

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