The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the Zika virus infection linked to the increasing cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains, a public health emergency.
By this declaration, the WHO has put the Zika virus in the same category of concern as the Ebola epidemic, in order for research and aid to be fast-tracked to tackle the infection.
The health organisation said the virus is spreading far and fast in more than 20 countries in the Americas with Brazil alone reporting about 4,000 cases of microcephaly since October last year.
“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,” Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director general, said.
She said the outbreak of the Zika virus is an emergency that needs co-ordinated response to end its further spread.
Dr Chan said the priorities are to protect pregnant women and their babies from the virus and control the mosquitoes that are spreading the virus.
She advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to areas affected by Zika and seek advice from their physician if they are living in areas affected by Zika as well as protect themselves against mosquito bites by using mosquito repellent.
Currently, there is no vaccine or medication to stop Zika. The only way to avoid catching it is to avoid getting bitten by the Aedes mosquitoes that transmit the infection.
Most infections are mild and cause few or no symptoms, although there have been some reported cases of a rare paralysis disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The bigger health threat is believed to be in pregnancy, especially to the unborn child.
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri