By Levar Alonzo and Ashley Oliver
The World Health Organization announced on Feb. 1 that the Zika virus and its link to birth defects in babies represents an international public health emergency. This move has only been done three times before with polio, influenza in 2009 and Ebola in 2014.
Since last year’s Ebola outbreak, the international body is using this move to lobby for more funding and personnel to deploy to the Central and South America to stem this rapidly spreading virus. The first case of the Zika virus was confirmed in Brazil last May. Since then the virus has moved into more than 20 countries in Latin America. The first case of the virus in the U.S. was reported in Texas.
“From the spread of the virus throughout the lower Americas and maybe one or two cases in the U.S. we can now better prepared ourselves for a possible outbreak,” said Chitra Pasram, York College Nursing Major and Walgreens Pharmacy Technician. “I think knowing is the key.”
The Zika virus is commonly spread to people through the bite of a mosquito. Zika is part of a family of mosquito born viruses, which includes West Nile virus that is passed through the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list the most common symptoms of Zika virus as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). In severe cases, which are uncommon, hospitalization is required. The outbreak of the Zika virus has taken the world by surprise. It was first identified 50 years ago in Uganda. Over the past year there has been a surge in the number of people contracting what was once a rare virus that caused mild illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) is predicting that by the end of this year at least four million people could be infected.
The New York times reported that the WHO’s experience in delaying the declaration of the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa as an emergency, the organization is taking more precautionary steps to contain the Zika outbreak. Although a major difference between Ebola and Zika is that the Zika virus thus far has not directly resulted in fatalities.
The main concern is over the virus’s possible link to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and, in the vast majority of cases, damaged brains. Reported cases of microcephaly are rising sharply in Brazil, which has proven to be ground zero for the disease, although researchers are on the fence about establishing that Zika causes the condition.
The connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly is a bit hazy. Microcephaly is a congenital condition where babies are born with abnormal-size brains. Doctor Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, acknowledges this fact but placed the virus on international public emergency so that an understanding could be made about the links between the two.
“The evidence is growing and it’s getting strong,” said Chan at a news conference in Geneva. “So I accepted, even on microcephaly alone, that it is sufficient to call an emergency. We need a coordinated international response.”
Since there is no cure for the virus, the only way to control the virus is to reduce the population of Aedes mosquitoes, according to WHO. For more information on how to avoid contracting the virus, goto the CDC’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/
“What precautions would you take if the ZIka virus came to New York City?”
Shaunte Peters, 20, Marketing Major: I wouldn’t really take that many because I’m not getting pregnant any time soon. It only really has an affect on you if you’re really trying to get pregnant so I’m good.”
Migdalia Estimable, Marketing major: “I would just stay home because New York isn’t prepared for anything. They weren’t even prepared for Sandy
Stephen Pink, Speech Communications major “I’ll be moving back to Jamaica. It isn’t that free in America anyway.”
Jeroan Dally, 19, Movement Science: “I would stay in my crib and wear mosquito spray every time I leave. I wouldn’t even go out in the daytime, only at night.