The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Zika virus and microcephaly as a public health emergency of international concern – the same category of concern as was used for the 2014-2015 West African Ebola outbreak .
“The recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities…constitutes an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world,” said the WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan at the emergency WHO meeting on Monday Feb 1st 2016 [1, 2].
Since 2007, the WHO has only declared a public health emergency three times. This rare move comes after many people believed that the WHO waited too long to declare the Ebola outbreak as a public health emergency and that many lives could have been saved with an earlier and swifter response .
“International response is needed to minimize the threat in infected countries and reduce risk of international spread,” stated Dr. Chan . This declaration means that resources will be directed towards research and aid, to safeguard the spread of the infectious disease . Officially determining Zika to be an “emergency” gives the WHO leadership to take action at coordinating efforts around the world. Top priorities include protecting pregnant women and their babies and to control the mosquitoes that are spreading the virus .
What the United States is Doing
Priorities are likely to include disease prevention, and development of faster tests and treatments for Zika. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun working with Puerto Rico and other US regions at-risk to develop mosquito control efforts in anticipation of warmer weather – otherwise, mosquito season .
Dr. Chan advises pregnant women to consider delaying travel to affected areas, seeking out physicians advice if they are living in areas affected by Zika, and to protect themselves against mosquito bites by wearing repellent .
The CDC recommends the screening, testing, and management of pregnant women returning from travels in areas affected by Zika virus transmission. Women planning on becoming pregnant and pregnant women with a history of travel to an area affected by Zika should speak to their doctor and be tested for Zika virus infection .
1. Taversnise, S. W.H.O. Declares Zika Virus a Global Health Emergency. 2016; Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/02/health/zika-virus-world-health-organization.html?_r=0.
2. Roberts, M., Zika-linked condition: WHO declares global emergency, in BBC NEWS. 2016.
3. Frieden, T., CDC director: What we're doing about the Zika virus, in CNN 2016.
4. Petersen, E.E., Interim guidelines for pregnant women during a Zika virus outbreak—United States, 2016. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 2016. 65.