Suggesting Zika is on the rise, WHO warns of risk in Pacific
The World Health Organisation says new research has strengthened the link between the Zika virus and fetal abnormalities, and they say sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously thought.
The World Health Organisation says new research has strengthened the link between the Zika virus and foetal abnormalities, and it says sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously thought.
Last week, the WHO convened for emergency talks on Zika in Geneva for the second time and is warning everyone is at risk.
The virus has spread to six Pacific Island countries.
Bridget Grace reports.
The WHO's Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, has sounded the alarm about Zika saying the virus is expanding.
MARGARET CHAN: "The geographical spread of the disease is wider. The risk group is broader. And the modes of transmission now include sexual intercourse as well as mosquito bites."
Dr Chan says in the past month substantial new research has shown the Zika virus does affect the brain of a developing foetus and it can also cause neurological disorders.
MARGARET CHAN: "Microcephaly is now only one of several documented birth abnormalities associated with Zika infection during pregnancy. Grave outcomes include foetal death, placental insufficiency, foetal growth retardation, and injury to the central nervous system."
So far, microcephaly has been documented in two countries, French Polynesia and Brazil. A medical officer in emerging disease at the WHO in Suva, Eric Nilles, says the growing evidence will help countries respond.
ERIC NILLES: "For countries that have Zika virus or are at risk of Zika virus, understanding that there's a real risk of these associated neurological complications, I think galvanises the preparedness and galvanises the response."
Eric Nilles says there is mounting strong evidence that the Zika virus is also a cause of an auto-immune disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome. He says that means the group of people at risk is not just women of child-bearing age.
ERIC NILLES: "In general Guillain-Barre is higher risk in males, slightly higher risk in males. And typically it's more common in elderly or older middle aged than young children or adolescents. But all age groups and both sexes can develop Guillain-Barre syndrome."
He says the WHO has upped its travel advisory, and now says pregnant women are advised not to travel to areas of ongoing Zika outbreaks. It is also advising pregnant women who have sexual partners who live in or travel to areas with Zika outbreaks, to practise safe sex or abstain from sex during pregnancy. The Pacific Community's acting deputy director for public health, Dr Salanieta Saketa, says there needs to be more education on the risks.
SALANIETA SAKETA: "That's a real worry, concern for Pacific island countries. Particularly in the sense that a lot of countries have young populations who are sexually active, and so we need to increase communication."
Dr Saketa says the Pacific community would like to see more countries in the region providing data on Zika. Transmission of the virus has been reported in 31 countries and territories worldwide, with six of those located in the Pacific. This month, Fiji and New Caledonia joined the list which includes American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga and the Marshall Islands. The WHO says cases of dengue typically increase during the rainy season, which lasts from January to May. As Zika is spread by the same mosquito species, they say both a rise in cases and a greater geographical spread are expected over the next few months.
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