Written by Staff Writer
20 Feb, 2016 | 6:03 am
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that there is growing evidence linking the Zika virus to microcephaly, a serious birth defect in infants, though this will still take times to prove categorically.
At a news conference in Geneva, Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s assistant director-general and chief on outbreaks and health emergencies, said the number of suspected Zika cases continues to rise in the Americas, the region hit hardest by the outbreak.
According to the WHO, a total of 36 countries around the world are known to have transmission of the mosquito-borne virus, including 28 in the Americas. So far, Brazil and French Polynesia have both reported a growing number of cases of microcephaly, and eight countries, including Brazil, have reported cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare and serious neurological disorder.
Aylward said although it is not yet known for certain that the Zika virus is the root cause, there is growing evidence that the virus is in some way tied to the disorders.
The WHO will continue to proceed as if the association is causal or “guilty until proven innocent” for both microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, Aylward told reporters.
“That combination of the escalating increase in Zika cases, the gravity of the potential consequences of Zika infection, and the huge presence of the vector across the world is really what’s driving the speed and aggressiveness with which we are moving forward,” he said.
On the risk of the expansion of imported cases in other countries, Dr. Pedro Alonso, director of WHO’s global malaria program, said the possibility of an outbreak depends on a range of factors in that particular country.
“How has the expansion of this epidemic taken place? By individuals being infected walking into places where there are potential transmitting mosquitoes, infecting the mosquitoes, and then getting the chain going forward. However, as Bruce said, that very much depends on local behavior, housing, air conditioning, all sorts of elements,” he said.
“Plus, a very important (factor), and I suspect we don’t entirely understand for how long is an individual infectious to the mosquito. Does this happen? Of course it happens. That’s how it’s spreading. What is the real risk of that? We are not entirely clear,” Alonso added.
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