Zika virus – which may cause severe birth defects – could be a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Africa and the World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency, a rare move that signals the seriousness of the outbreak and gives countries new tools to fight it.
The virus is not contagious and can be passed on through mosquito bites.
Zika is transmitted by the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito and breeds in countires where the temperature is consistently high enough.
Malawi’s Ministry of Health (MoH) has said the mosquitoes carrying the virus, which has spread in South America, are different from the local ones.
But environmental health expert Michael Chimaliza has said the virus could spread to Malawi and the Africa region because the Aedes species of mosquitoes was also common here.
Chimaliza said the same principles of how one can prevent contracting mosquito-borne diseases like malaria can also apply to Zika which includes prevention of mosquito bites by using barriers such as insecticides, sleeping in a treated mosquito net and wearing clothing that covers exposed areas when travelling to a mosquito infested area.
At a news conference in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O, said the emergency designation would allow the health agency to coordinate the many efforts to get desperately needed answers.
Officials said research on the effects of Zika in pregnant women was underway in at least three countries: Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador.
Dr Alain Cole from the University of Glasgow told BBC News there was “mounting circumstantial evidence” Zika could be linked to microcephaly.
“Probably the majority of people will not even realise they are infected [with Zika]. Only about 20% of people will develop symptoms – and these symptoms are mild,” he added.
Meanwhile, Prof Trudie Lang from the University of Oxford said the scientists needed to understand why Zika was “picking up like this”.
She said: “What seems to be happening is it’s crossing into unborn babies, and causing this problem… but we really don’t know, and we need to do more research.”
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian chikukumbe said they have issued travel warnings to pregnant women or those who intend to become pregnant shortly not to go to the region infested with virus.”
The current outbreak of Zika has taken the world by surprise. The virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda, and for years lived mostly in monkeys. But last May in Brazil, cases began increasing drastically. The W.H.O. has estimated that four million people could be infected by the end of the year. The rapid spread is because people in the Americas have not developed immunity, public health experts say.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :