Regional mobilization in Latin America, the first cases in Europe, call for urgent action by US President Barack Obama was growing concern Wednesday against the Zika virus, Benin in appearance but suspected to cause serious birth defects.
Three months after the first health warnings in Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff called on all in the region to adopt a common strategy to combat the disease, announcing a summit of health ministers next week in Uruguay.
“We will hold a meeting of Mercosur (the South American common market, ie) Tuesday in Montevideo, open to all countries of the Celac (Community of Latin American and Caribbean, ed),” said the president to the press, on top of the Celac in Quito.
The day before, Ms. Rousseff had announced that his government intensified its measures against the spread of the disease, in the “house by house” fighter.
The South American giant, which will host the Olympic Games in August in Rio is most affected by this epidemic, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito, which can also be carriers of dengue and chikungunya. The virus is not spread directly between humans.
Faced with the disease, there is no preventative treatment or vaccine, but it usually causes only mild flu-like symptoms or goes undetected in most cases. It is rarely fatal.
The danger is for pregnant women: the virus can be transmitted to the fetus and is suspected to cause serious birth defects such as microcephaly (small size of the skull, damaging intellectual development) or even death.
Call Barack Obama
Brazil does not disclose the number of patients with Zika, but only suspected cases of microcephaly: nearly 4200 (including 68 deaths) since October 2015 and the surge of the virus, against only 147 babies affected in 2014.
Colombia, the second most affected country with over 13 800 cases of Zika confirmed, including 890 pregnant women and hundreds of babies with microcephaly, declared Tuesday the first level of alert, green, so that hospitals are preparing to meet an expansion of the disease.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Zika, already present in 21 of 55 countries in the Americas, will continue to expand, “a serious cause for concern” according to its director general Margaret Chan.
Faced with this threat, the United States, while relatives are mobilizing: President Barack Obama launched Tuesday a call for urgent action.
“The president stressed the need to accelerate research efforts to develop better diagnostics, vaccines and treatments and ensuring that all Americans are informed about Zika,” said the White House in a statement.
The disease already affects more than twenty countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in which the US Centers Control and Prevention of Diseases (CDC) recommend that pregnant women not to travel.
First cases in Europe
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicate on their website that the virus could spread to the United States, in areas where 60% of the country’s population, about 200 million people.
According to a recent study published in the British medical journal Lancet, cited by the NIH, the virus could spread along the east and west coasts of the United States during the warmer months, even reaching the Midwest.
This research points out that nearly 23 million Americans live in moist, warm areas, such as Florida and Louisiana, where mosquitoes could survive Zika all year.
The disease first appeared in Europe in recent days, at least six countries (UK, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark and Switzerland) confirming its presence in people returning from Latin America, said the health authorities .
No infections have been reported in pregnant women.
The climate in Europe, now in winter, however, should prevent mosquito carrying the disease survive.
No cases have been reported in France, but health authorities have discussed indigenous cases (infection contracted locally) in the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin in the Caribbean and on the coast of French Guiana French.