Monday, February 01, 2016

HEALTH - Zika Virus

"WHO to consider declaring international emergency over Zika virus" PBS NewsHour 1/28/2016


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  United Nations health experts issued a powerful new warning today about the Zika virus.  The World Health Organization (WHO) said it may have mushroomed into a full-blown global emergency.

DR. MARGARET CHAN, Director-General, World Health Organization:  It is now spreading explosively.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The sense of urgency was palpable as WHO Director Margaret Chan addressed a special session on the Zika virus in Geneva.

DR. MARGARET CHAN:  As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region.  The level of alarm is extremely high.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Most of the outbreak has been concentrated across Central and South America.  WHO officials estimated today there could be three to four million cases in the Americas over the next year alone.

Brazil, hosting this summer’s Olympics, has been hit the hardest, with more than a million people contracting the virus.  Fear has spiked there with a rise in birth defects apparently caused by Zika, babies born with small heads, known as microcephaly, and with neurological problems.

DR. MARGARET CHAN:  The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Researchers say it’s still relatively rare that a pregnant woman infected around the time of delivery can pass the virus to her newborn.  There’s also been one report of a possible spread through blood transfusion, and another through sexual contact.

Today, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff announced a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations next week on how to eradicate the virus.  In the meantime, some 220,000 Brazilian soldiers are going house to house, checking for stagnant water and fumigating for mosquitoes that transmit Zika.

El Salvador has taken still more drastic measures.  Last week, its deputy health minister urged women to refrain from getting pregnant before 2018.  At least 31 Americans were infected in the past year, but all are believed to have contracted the virus after traveling to affected areas.

For now, there is no cure, and the WHO says it could take years to get a vaccine.

DR. SYLVAIN ALDIGHIERI, World Health Organization:  There is no immunity.  So we would expect huge numbers of infections, some detected, some not detected.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The agency was criticized for not moving quickly enough on the Ebola outbreak.  But it’s calling a crisis meeting for Monday on whether to declare Zika an international health emergency.

"Why is Zika virus spreading so quickly?" PBS NewsHour 1/28/2016


SUMMARY:  Weeks ago, hardly anyone in the U.S. knew what the Zika virus was.  Now the mosquito-borne illness is raising serious fears, especially for pregnant women.  Judy Woodruff talks to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health about the dangers of the infection and how to prevent it, in absence of a vaccine.

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