Ahead of Monday’s World Health Organization’s emergency meeting following the outbreak of the Zika virus across Latin America, health officials have warned that the disease could pose more threat to the world than the Ebola outbreak, which occurred in 2014 in West Africa.
The Ebola outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa and some parts of the world, with countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia among those severely hit in 2014. This figure, according to health experts could be child’s play if nothing urgent is done about the outbreak of Zika in Brazil, El Salvador and other places in Latin America.
The WHO’s meeting scheduled for Monday, will decide whether the Zika threat should be rated a global health crisis. The Zika virus, which is being linked to an alarming rise in cases of foetal deformation called microcephaly, is already spreading faster than anticipated.
“In many ways the Zika outbreak is worse than the Ebola epidemic of 2014-15,” said Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust. “Most virus carriers are symptomless. It is a silent infection in a group of highly vulnerable individuals – pregnant women – that is associated with a horrible outcome for their babies,” per the Guardian.
Unlike Ebola, which now has several vaccines being placed on trial, there seems to be no prospect of a vaccine for Zika at the moment, which is quite worrying. “The real problem is that trying to develop a vaccine that would have to be tested on pregnant women is a practical and ethical nightmare,” added Mike Turner, head of infection and immuno-biology at the Wellcome Trust.
Tracking the Zika disease is even more difficult considering the fact that at least 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms. The mosquito species that cause the spread of the disease, Aedes aegypti, has been expanding its range over the last couple of decades. “It loves urban life and has spread across the entire tropical belt of the planet, and of course that belt is expanding as global warming takes effect,” added Farrar.
Only extreme measures are likely to contain the Zika threat, said Turner. These could include the use of DDT to eradicate Aedes aegypti as quickly as possible. “We have to balance the risk posed to the environment by DDT with the terrible impact this virus is having on the unborn.”
Although countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany are not at threat of getting affected by the spread, couples returning from South or Central America have been warned to not try for a baby for at least a month in event that they have become infected already.
Monday’s emergency meeting of the World Health Organization is aimed at finding a way out of the situation, which is already causing panic across the world. The WHO was heavily criticized for the way it handled the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa in 2014, with various health experts accusing the world body for not acting fast enough to curtail the spread and warn the world.