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World Health Organization Warns Europe: Prepare for Zika

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending the governments of Europe begin preparations against the Zika virus now, before spring and summer.

“Every European country in which Aedes mosquitos are present can be at risk for the spread of Zika virus disease,” wrote Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s regional director for Europe. “A number of travellers infected with Zika have entered Europe, but the disease has not been transmitted further, as the mosquito is still inactive. With the onset of spring and summer, the risk that Zika virus will spread increases.”

She added, “Now is the time for countries to prepare themselves to reduce the risk to their populations. As there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus disease, we must protect the European Region by stopping the disease at its source.”

Jakab provided these ideas:

  • control the mosquitoes, including employing community engagement in eliminating mosquito breeding sites and plan for insecticide spraying and killing of larvae in case of outbreaks;
  • inform people at risk, especially pregnant women, about preventing mosquito bites;
  • enhance surveillance and ensure laboratory detection of Zika virus disease and its neurological complications;
  • and step up research to understand Zika virus disease and develop diagnostic tests and vaccines

Scientists believe a legal vaccine is still a decade away, but an emergency shot could be in use by the end of the year.

The United Kingdom announced plans to fumigate all planes that land “from countries affected by the Zika virus.” They are already sterilized inside to prevent malaria.

Spain confirmed a pregnant woman has the virus after she returned from Colombia. The Health Ministry stated she is “one of seven confirmed cases in Spain.” Denmark and Switzerland also reported citizens diagnosed with Zika after they returned from Latin America and the Caribbean.

WHO declared Zika a public health emergency on February 1 due to the thousands of cases of the virus linked to birth defects in newborn children.

“I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in Latin America following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014 constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” announced WHO’s director general, Margaret Chan.

Experts are working to understand what has now become a clear link between Zika and microcephaly, which occurs when the brain does not fully form during pregnancy or after birth. This leads to serious mental disabilities.

Photo compares a normal sized head to one with microcephaly.

Photo compares a normal sized head to one with microcephaly.

Following the outbreak of Zika, Brazil has discovered more than 4,000 cases and is diagnosing an average of 200 cases a week. In 2015, the country tracked an excess of 2,400 cases, compared to the 147 in 2014. Colombia confirmed more than 2,100 pregnant women have the virus.

Brazil has confirmed two cases of infections through blood transfusions. Campinos Health Secretary Cármino de Souza said the government was not previously able to confirm the infections “because they were initially suspected of being infected with dengue, another mosquito-borne virus.”

The American Red Cross has urged people not to donate blood “if they traveled to Latin America or the Caribbean in the past 28 days.” They advised those who have donated blood to alert the organization if they develop Zika symptoms.

The Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) discovered a patient had contracted Zika “after having sexual contact with an individual sick with Zika virus disease.”

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