Tag Archives: Zika Virus

WHO To Meet Over Zika Concerns as Rio Olympic Games Approach

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A World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman has disclosed that the WHO’s Emergency Committee on Zika will meet in the coming weeks in order to evaluate the risks tied to going on with the Olympic Games in Brazil in August. The meeting comes as the debate grows over the safety of holding the Olympics in the South American country amidst the ongoing Zika virus outbreak.

According to WHO spokesman Nyka Alexander, “the Emergency Committee meeting will consider the situation in Brazil, including the question of the Olympics,” noting that while the WHO will make risk assessments of a public health issue, it will ultimately be up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to decide on holding the event in Rio de Janeiro, which is due to begin on 5 August. A spokesman for Rio 2016 has disclosed that officials are continuing to follow WHO recommendations on Zika.

Dr David Heymann, chairman of the WHO committee of independent experts, has disclosed that postponing the Rio Olympics over fears that it could speed the spread of the Zika virus would give a “false” sense of security because travellers are constantly going in and out of Brazil. WHO experts have also indicated that because it will be winter in Brazil when the Olympics begin, mosquitoes that carry the virus will be less abundant.

At the beginning of June, a public letter was signed by 150 public health experts and scientists calling for the Olympics to be delayed or moved over concerns that the Games could speed up the global spread of the Zika virus. However top US officials agreed with WHO experts that Zika did not pose enough of a risk to postpone or move the Olympics. According to Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, travel to the Olympics would represent less than one quarter of 1 percent of all travel to Zika-affected areas, adding that the risk was low except for pregnant women.

While athletes will have to make their own decisions as to whether to risk Zika for the potential globally of Olympic gold, some athletes have already withdrawn from the competition.

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WHO Declares Zika Virus a Global Health Emergency

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The World Health Organization on February 1 declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international health emergency due to its links to thousands of birth defects. WHO Director Margaret Chan said that coordinated action was needed to improve detection and expedite work on a vaccine and better diagnostics for the disease. The UN agency is concerned about a surge in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with small heads and underdeveloped brains. Chan said it was strongly suspected that Zika causes microcephaly.

This is the fourth time that the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency since such procedures were put in place in 2007. Emergency declarations are meant as international SOS and usually brings more money and action to address the outbreak, as well as prompting research into possible treatments and vaccines.

The United Nations health agency said the Zika infection was spreading rapidly and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the virus has spread in 24 nations and regions in the Americas.

On January 15, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised pregnant woman to postpone travel to more than dozen countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean to avoid infection with the virus. The agency raised the alert level for travellers to Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika. On January 21, Brazilian health authorities said that the number of babies with microcephaly since October had reached nearly 4.000. The Health Ministry said that the surge was caused by the outbreak of Zika virus. On February 4, President Dilma Rousseff declared war on mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. Dilma announced that 220.000 members of the armed forces would go door to door to help to battle the mosquitoes.

Zika virus was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The first human case was detected in Nigeria in 1954 and there have been further outbreaks in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific Islands. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are mild fever, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), headache, joint pain and rash. There is no vaccine or drug treatment so patients are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

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