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WHO Declares Zika a Global Emergency
Feb 05, 2016

The World Health Organization has announced that the explosive spread of the Zika virus in the Americas is an extraordinary event that merits being declared an international emergency.

  • The WHO convened an emergency meeting of independent experts to assess the outbreak after noting a suspicious link between Zika’s arrival in Brazil last year and a surge in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads.

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

  • Such emergency declarations are meant as an international SOS signal.

  • WHO says Zika virus is strongly suspected of causing birth defects and may infect 3-4 million people in the Americas.

  • The last such public health emergency was declared for the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said there was no definitive proof that the Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes, is responsible for the birth defects, but the level of alarm is extremely high.

Zika Virus

  • Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus.

  • Symptoms are mild and include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

  • Just one in five people infected becomes ill. Hospitalisation is uncommon and deaths are rare.

  • Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species of mosquito.

  • Pregnant women can also pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, but how and when this happens is unclear.

  • Those infected can pass the virus on through a mosquito bite for about seven days after infection.

  • There are no reports of transmission through breastfeeding, but in a few cases the virus has been reported to have been passed on through blood transfusion.

  • A blood or tissue sample from the first week of the infection must be sent to an advanced laboratory.

  • The virus can be detected through sophisticated molecular testing that seeks out the active virus, which lasts in the body for about a week.

  • Research is being done to develop a rapid test which could look for antibodies after a patient has recovered from the virus, making it possible to test for immunity.

  • There is no vaccine or specific medicine currently available and treatment is normally focused on relieving the symptoms.

Indian Biotech Firm Develops Two Vaccines for Zika Virus

Indian scientists say they have developed two vaccines for the Zika virus, which is linked to underdeveloped brains in babies. The two vaccines, developed by Bharat Biotech International in Hyderabad, India, were created following research that began nine months ago. On Zika, it is probably the first vaccine company in the world to file a vaccine candidate patent about nine months ago.

The formulated inactivated vaccine is expected to elicit a strong antibody response as researchers see humoral immunity offering a primary defense against Zika infection. They will now be tested in animal and human trials. If those trials are successful, a vaccine could become available to the public in around four months. The best case scenario is that the biotech firm could make one million doses in that time. Research into the vaccines began after the biotech firm legally imported a live Zika virus into the country last year.

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