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WHO declares Zika virus outbreak as International Emergency

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared an international public health emergency over the explosive spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

It was announced after WHO’s emergency meeting of independent experts headed by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. The meeting was convened in Geneva, Switzerland to assess the outbreak of the virus which is linked to birth defects in the Americas.

Key facts

  • Deceleration of international emergency means that there is underscoring seriousness of outbreak and needs a coordinated global response and greater attention to stop it.
  • WHO has predicted that around four million people may be infected with Zika virus in the Americas (South and North America).

This is the fourth time the WHO has declared an international public health emergency. Earlier, the UN Health agency had declared two emergencies in 2014 for the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa and a resurgence of polio in Syria and other countries. In 2009, the first emergency was declared after the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

About Zika virus

  • Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
  • It is close cousin of other other vector-borne diseases like Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes .
  • The virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda and its name has been derived from Zika Forest.
  • Transmission: Zika virus is not contagious but it is mainly transmitted by daytime-active Aedes aegypti mosquitoes after it bites someone infected with the virus and transmit it by biting another human.
  • Most common symptoms: Headache, muscle and joint pain, mild fever, rash, pinkeye and inflammation of the underside of the eyelid.
  • Linkages: It causes neurological disorders and foetal deformation known as Microcephaly in which infants are born with abnormally smaller heads that can cause brain damage.
  • A possible link between the virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome (a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system) is also suspected.
  • Treatment and Prevention: There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available. The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites and clearing stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.

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