Zika virus spread ‘explosive’, Sri Lanka begins screening at airport

Jan 29, 2016 (LBO) – The World Health Organization said the spread of the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, is “explosive” and more studies were needed, as Sri Lanka began screening visitors from Latin American and African countries at the airport.

The Zika disease has been detected in 23 Latin American countries and linked to birth defects, although a clear link has not been established.

“A causal relationship between Zika virus and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established – this is an important point – but it is strongly suspected,” Margaret Chan, the WHO director general, said at a special briefing in Geneva.

“The possible links have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions. The increased incidence of microcephaly is particularly alarming as it places a heartbreaking burden on families and communities.”

Brazilian authorities estimate the country could have up to 1m Zika infections by now, and since September, the country has registered nearly 4,000 cases of babies with microcephaly, the Guardian reported.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there had been 31 cases of Zika infection among US citizens who travelled to areas affected by the virus, but so far there had been no cases of transmission of the virus through mosquitoes in the US itself.

“It is important to note that we will not have a widely available safe and effective Zika vaccine this year and probably not in the next few years,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, before adding that scientists might be able to begin “a phased clinical trial in this calendar year.”

According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild which means many people might not realize they have been infected.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes and symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

It is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, and can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.

Treatment involves getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and taking medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.

Zika could be diagnosed through blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viral diseases like dengue or chikungunya.

Information is still slim on how often Zika is transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth, the CDC said.

Specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are often difficult to determine and are likely to change over time, and the CDC guided inquirers to the CDC Travelers’ Health site for updated information.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to avoid being bitten and protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.

There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly (a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age) and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant.

The CDC said it is not a new virus and outbreaks of Zika previously have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil.