UN warns more cases of Zika expected with ‘further geographic spread’
March 9, Geneva: The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the latest update on Zika virus is ‘alarming,’ with more cases expected in the coming months in a larger geographic area, and warned that modes of transmission now include sexual intercourse as well as mosquito bites.
Since this emergency committee on Zika virus first met on 1 February, substantial new clinical and epidemiological research has strengthened the association between Zika infection and the occurrence of fetal malformations and neurological disorders.
Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO highlighted that the geographical distribution of the disease is wider, the risk group is broader, and imported cases of Zika have been reported from every region in the world.
“Local transmission has now been reported in 31 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this region, cases of dengue, which is carried by the same mosquito species as Zika, typically increase during the rainy season, which lasts from January to May. We can expect to see more cases and further geographical spread,” Dr. Chan warned.
Evidence shows Zika can infect fetuses
Concerning the link with fetal malformations, the virus has been detected in amniotic fluid; evidence shows it can cross the placental barrier and infect the fetus. “We can now conclude that Zika virus is neurotropic, preferentially affecting tissues in the brain and brain stem of the developing fetus,” the Director-General stated. “Zika has been detected in the blood, brain tissue, and cerebrospinal fluid of foetuses following miscarriage, stillbirth, or termination of pregnancy.”
According to WHO, microcephaly is now only one of several documented birth abnormalities associated with Zika infection during pregnancy. Grave outcomes reportedly include fetal death, placental insufficiency, fetal growth retardation, and injury to the central nervous system.
To date, microcephaly has been documented in only two countries: French Polynesia and Brazil. However, Dr. Chan indicated that intense surveillance for fetal abnormalities is currently under way in countries like Colombia, where the outbreaks started later than in Brazil.
The Oslo Times