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Staying on high alert for Zika

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

02-17-2016 11:00 BJT

By Yan Jian, Assistant Director, Center for Global Governance and Development Strategies, Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of CPC Central Committee

The Zika virus is ravaging South America. On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) held its first meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, declared that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders related with Zika virus in Brazil "constitutes a public health emergency of international concern."

Brazil, epicenter of the outbreak, reported its first case of infection in March 2015. In less than 10 months, the virus has transmitted to all countries of South America, North America and Caribbean countries.

According to one estimate from WHO, in Brazil, between 500,000 to 1.5 million people have been infected, representing the biggest Zika virus outbreak on record.

Zika was first detected in Uganda in 1947, but has never caused an outbreak to this scale. The first human infection case was found in Nigeria in 1954. In the following years, it has sporadically spread to Africa, Southeast Asia and some Pacific islands.

In 2013 and 2014, four Pacific island countries recorded the first large-scale outbreak of the Zika virus in history.

Previously, Zika was not treated as a major threat to human health. Most infection cases had resulted in no symptoms and it is hard to test for it. Only 20% of infected people have symptoms, such as fever and rash, which do not last long and generally disappear in one week.

However, health experts might have underestimated the health risks. Members of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee agreed that a causal correlation between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly-babies born with abnormally small heads is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically confirmed.

This ominous connection was underlined by the worrisome development in Brazil, where fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly were reported in 2014, but there have been more than 3,500 reported cases since last October.

As people are reassessing health risks, they are redoubling efforts to fight the virus.

The fight against Zika is compounded, because there's no effective vaccines and cure available. WHO cited "the lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries" as further causes for concern.

It's commonly believed that the virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. If mosquitoes drink the blood of an infected person, they can then infect subsequent people they bite. The only effective option to contain it is to reduce the risk of being bitten, especially for at-risk individuals, including pregnant women.

WHO experts advised people to use insect repellents, cover up with long-sleeved clothes, keep windows and doors closed and use a mosquito net. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, and people should empty their buckets and flower pots.

However, the possibility of people-to-people transmission of Zika has never been ruled out. A recent development in the US has just aggravated this concern.

On February 3, 2016, the virus being transmitted through sex, not a mosquito bite, was reported in Dallas, Tx., USA. Although scientists still need more proof to verify the new transmission route, the latest case has raised alarm bells.

Affected countries have taken measures to stem the spread of the virus. Brazil bears the brunt of this endemic so far. As the host country of the 2016 summer Olympics, Brazilian government is sparing no effort to contain it.

Sao Paulo has deployed over 220,000 soldiers to go from home to home, handing out leaflets on how to avoid Zika. Mosquito eradication measures have been adopted by other affected nations.

Although WHO found no health justification for restrictions on travel or trade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States recently issued a travel warning and advised pregnant women not to travel to affected areas.

Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and the European Union have also issued similar traveling warnings.

The risk is global. There have been several European and African countries that reported infection cases. A coordinated global response is necessary to improve surveillance, detection of infections and for better sharing of best practices.

WHO, eager to restore its image after being widely-criticized for its slow response to Ebola the year before, has taken the lead to fight against Zika. But its effectiveness remains largely uncertain.

 

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

 

 

Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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