On its own, the Zika virus, with mild, if any effects for most people would not be a public health emergency of international concern, experts from a World Health Organization Panel said today. But although causal links between the spread of the virus, and possible neurological impacts of the virus, including the paralyzing Guillain-Barré syndrome and clusters of babies born with microcephaly first in French Polynesia, and now in Brazil, remain unconfirmed, it is the need to confront that indication and find answers that led the panel, convened last week, to make the declaration today intended to speed and focus responses to the mosquito-borne disease.
The international panel, composed of infectious diseases specialists, epidemiologists and other physicians and researchers are not calling for restrictions to trade and travel where the virus is prevalent, but are advising the usual precautions surrounding mosquito-borne diseases, including wearing repellant, sleeping under bed nets and wearing clothing that provides maximum cover.
Even if the possible link between the spread of the virus and a rise in the neurological birth defect that prompted today’s declaration is proven not to exist, the panel was not swayed by a fear of raising a false alarm, a panel member said today, stressing the importance of determining the cause of increased cases of microcephaly.
Asked how the result from this declaration might differ from the delayed and then uncoordinated response to Ebola, following changes to emergency responses underway in the wake of that crisis, a panel member acknowledged that a fund for emergency responses to be managed by the World Bank is not yet active. In addition, while some research is underway in areas where the virus has been prevalent, research that could lead to development of vaccine to prevent infection is in the most nascent stages.
A full statement of findings from the committee’s first meeting is here.