The World Health Organization (WHO) has on Monday, January 25, declared that the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile.
Unlike Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic disease – the host, a rodent known as the “multimammate rat” of the genus Mastomys – which is currently ripping apart the shores of Nigeria, and has sent a sizeable number of Nigerians to early grave, the mosquito-borne Zika disease – currently found in Brazil – has raged in South America and other regions for several months.
The WHO said the disease affects the growth of the foetus, leading to microcephaly or stunted brain growth. One case of microcephaly linked to Zika virus has been established in Hawaii.
WHO also announced last Friday that Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, over 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1-2 percent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.
The Zika outbreak is coming hard on the heels of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and the Lassa fever in Nigeria, demonstrating once again how little-understood diseases can rapidly emerge as global threats.
“We’ve got no drugs and we’ve got no vaccines. It’s a case of deja vu because that’s exactly what we were saying with Ebola,” said Trudie Lang, a professor of global health at the University of Oxford. “It’s really important to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”
WHO further anticipates that Zika might become a worldwide issue with the 2016 summer Olympic Games coming up in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.
Zika fever was first discovered in Uganda in the 1940s and has since become endemic in parts of Africa.
Meanwhile, here are facts you should know about Zika virus according to WHO:
- Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
- People with Zika virus disease usually have a mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
- There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.
- The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
- The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.