The severity of the Zika virus outbreak situation has been upgraded to a “public international health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the WHO, told media in a televised conference that a coordinated international response is being created to improve surveillance, prevent the spread, and detect infections. There is “no public health justification” for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of the virus.
Currently, there is no treatment for the disease, which spreads through a broad species of the mosquito population and is linked to a staggering number of birth defects in South America. Infections are said to be highest in Brazil, where there have been 4,000 reports of infants with smaller-than-usual heads and brains. This condition is ‘incubated’ when a pregnant woman is infected.
As well, it is believed that the the virus is linked to a spike in reported cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome. It causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, and the resulting permanent damage could lead to paralysis.
The disease is quickly spreading throughout Brazil and to other nearby countries. According to the WHO, Zika is only transmittable by mosquitoes – there is no evidence that it can pass from human to human.
The United Nations anticipates up to four million people could be infected with the Zika virus this year. To date, there are four cases in Canada from people who recently traveled to the affected regions, including two cases in British Columbia and one in Alberta.
Brazil, the ‘ground zero’ of the current Zika virus outbreak, is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics this August. Local authorities, the International Olympic Committee, and Rio de Janeiro’s local organizing committee are said to be taking measures to minimize the risk and impact to the Games.