On the heels of the WHO’s declaration of emergency declaration, two persons have been confirmed to have the virus in Australia. The two persons were passengers travelling from the Caribbean back to Sydney, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The NSW Health department however, said the virus did not pose a serious threat to Australia.
“It is very unlikely that Zika virus established local transmission in NSW as the mosquitoes that spread the infection are not established here – although they are found in some parts of north Queensland,” Dr Vicky Sheppeard Director of Communicable Diseases said.
Various measures are now being adopted and put in place to ensure that the virus is contained. On Monday, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus an emergency, following its emergency meeting where a host of health experts were in attendance. The WHO was heavily criticized over the role it played during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where its action was regarded as too slow.
In El Salvador and some other countries in Latin America, women planning for pregnancy are being advised to suspend such plans until at least 6 months or two years from now. While in countries outside the Americas, countries are advising women who are pregnant or could be pregnant to consider delaying their travel plans to regions where there is active Zika virus outbreaks.
Two years ago there were four cases of Zika virus diagnosed in NSW from people who travelled from Cook Island, while one confirmed case was recorded in 2015 from a traveller from the Solomon Island.
There is “a significant likelihood” that the Zika virus has already been carried into Australia by unsuspecting travellers, however, it is unlikely to cause an outbreak outside the tropics, public health researchers say. So there might not be any reasons to worry at the moment.
The World Health Organization has declared the mosquito-borne virus an international health emergency, with fears it could affect close to 4 million people.
So far, Brazil, with nearly 4,000 cases is the country that is hit the most by the virus, which is a neurological condition where the baby is born with a small head and reduced brain function.
Though, the link between Zika and microcephaly has not been proved yet, there is strong epidemiological evidence that the virus is responsible.
However, the likelihood of a rapid spread of the virus to a country like Australia is low, except from travellers coming from countries that affected by the outbreak. In order for the disease to spread in Australia, an infected person would need to be bitten by a yellow fever mosquito, which then infected other people.
“Because 80 per cent of infections are asymptomatic there’s quite a significant likelihood of infected people coming back, but unless they happen to travel to far north Queensland, the risk of them being bitten by an appropriate mosquito is relatively small,” said Professor Gilbert, who is the clinical lead of Infection Prevention and Control at the Western Sydney Local Health Network.
The Zika virus can only be carried by one type of Australian mosquito; the yellow fever mosquito, and it does not live outside the tropics.