A World Health Organization committee meets Monday (Guardian) to discuss whether the Zika virus, which has expanded aggressively in Latin America, should be designated a global health emergency warranting an immediate and coordinated international response. The meeting comes days after WHO Director-General Margaret Chan warned that the virus, suspected of being linked to a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains, was “spreading explosively” throughout the region (Al Jazeera) and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas. Brazil has been the epicenter of the outbreak, with an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million people infected, and Colombia has also confirmed 20,000 cases of infections.
“[P]ublic health leaders and politicians had better brace for a very long haul on Zika. The virus will hide, infecting a range of insects, perhaps monkeys, even birds. And it will return in seasonal cycles, as have other mosquito-carried viruses, such as yellow fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya, and dengue. Because so many ‘foreign’ viruses carried by mosquitoes are now spreading across the Western Hemisphere at the same time, there will be misdiagnosis, mystery, and perhaps acute illnesses due to co-infections. Until we have an effective vaccine and have executed mammoth immunization campaigns in all of the nations of the Americas, Zika will haunt us, sicken some of us, and endanger our babies,” writes CFR’s Laurie Garrett for Foreign Policy.
“Zika might be a watershed moment in how reproductive rights are perceived in [El Salvador] — and the entire region. It would not be the first time a viral epidemic changes a society's feelings on abortion,” writes Jasmine Garsd for NPR.
“We shouldn’t have needed thousands of babies born with severe birth defects or people of all ages developing life-threatening autoimmune paralysis to remind us that mosquitoes pose a serious health threat. Dengue viruses, which are also transmitted by these two mosquito species, caused 2.3 million cases of dengue fever and far more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever in 2013 in the same countries in the Americas that have been, or will be, affected by Zika,” writes Michael T. Osterholm for the New York Times.
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