The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil, an international public health emergency.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan made the declaration after convening an Emergency Committee, under the International Health Regulations, to gather advice on the severity of the health threat associated with the continuing spread of Zika virus disease in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy,” Chan stated.
She noted that the Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus, but stressed that the most important protective measures at the moment are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.
Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes which usually bite during the morning and evening hours. The same mosquito transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. The virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys through a monitoring network of sylvatic yellow fever. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, the WHO stated in its fact sheet about the virus.