The Zika virus outbreak officially has health and government leaders concerned, as the virus has now spread to 25 countries in the Americas. According to USA Today, the World Health Organization is holding an emergency meeting on Monday regarding the Zika virus outbreak.
The mosquito borne Zika virus has quickly spread from just 14 countries to an additional nine countries in just two weeks. Brazil has been hit particularly hard by the Zika virus with over 3,700 infants being born with birth defects due to their mother’s exposure to the virus.
“Basically the majority of the population is susceptible to the Zika virus, so we are expecting to have many cases. That’s why vaccine is such an important intervention in terms of preventing the disease. Once we know exactly what the relationship is between the Zika virus and microcephaly, we will be in a better situation to know if a vaccine or a treatment will be available within a certain period of time,” said Dr. Alexander Precioso, a scientist at Butantan laboratories who’s advocating for a Zika virus vaccine.
When the World Health Organization conducts their emergency meeting on Monday, if they decide to classify Zika virus as a public health emergency of international concern, that could mean a lot more resources will be directed at controlling the outbreak.
The World Health Organization is particularly concerned about the correlation between the Zika virus outbreak and the number of babies born with birth defects, especially babies born with microcephaly, which is marked by unusually small skulls and abnormal brain development.
According to NPR, some Latin American countries, as well as Jamaica, have gone as far as to urge women to hold off on getting pregnant due to the Zika virus outbreak. Government officials in El Salvador even went as far as to suggest that women hold off on getting pregnant until 2018.
The issue of carrying Zika virus while pregnant is especially troubling in Latin American countries, because many of the countries have laws outlawing abortion, even if the health of the child or life of the mother will be put in jeopardy.
The Monday WHO meeting will also double as an opportunity to properly educate nations on the issue, so countries aren’t taking unnecessary precautions to limit travel or trade due to Zika virus. When the Ebola outbreak occurred, closing borders was harmful to the already fragile economies in West Africa.
One recommendation to control the Zika virus outbreak is to test pools of mosquitoes to see if they test positive for the virus. In addition, some officials are recommending blood tests to look for Zika virus in the general population. The WHO could potentially mitigate some of the concerns by spraying insecticides and reducing standing water, which will help control mosquito breeding.
United States government health officials seem mostly unconcerned with Zika virus causing an outbreak in the U.S., and says that occasional outbreaks may occur from travelers who get bitten by mosquitoes in other countries and then bring the virus back. As far as mosquito-born illnesses are concerned, experts argue that other illnesses such as the West Nile virus and EEE are bigger concerns for people living in the U.S.
According to NBC, 80 percent of people who contract the Zika virus don’t feel sick at all, and the main concern over the virus is with pregnant women who could pass the disease on to their unborn children.
For the time being, stay tuned to what the WHO has to say about the Zika virus and the race for its cure.
[Photo Credits: CDC.gov, Getty Images & Victor Moriyama]