WASHINGTON, United States, Saturday 24, 2017 – Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) director Carissa Etienne says future epidemic waves of the Zika virus, which will put additional people at risk, remain likely.
She issued the warning in a new perspective piece for the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, ‘Zika Virus Disease in the Americas: A Storm in the Making’.
“Future epidemic waves of Zika virus, which will put additional people at risk, remain likely,” Etienne said.
She noted that more than 700,000 cases of Zika virus disease have been officially reported to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) from 48 countries and territories of the Americas.
With some 500 million persons in Latin America and the Caribbean living in areas at risk for transmission of Zika, “the fight against Zika virus is not a 100-metre race, but rather a marathon in which science and public health need to work hand in hand for the benefit of our peoples,” Etienne said.
“Astute front-line health-care workers who first realized that they were detecting something unusual” in clusters of rash illness in Northeast Brazil, increases in neurological disorders like Guillain-Barre syndrome, and then increased numbers of cases of microcephaly, are credited by Etienne with sounding the alert on the spread of this formerly obscure virus.
“The Zika virus experience proves once again that good clinical judgment and awareness of atypical events are crucial for the timely detection of emerging and reemerging diseases. It also points to the importance of investing in the health workforce as the first line of defense against infectious disease threats,” she said.
Circulation of Zika in the Americas was hard to diagnose because of similarities to dengue and yellow fever, and a backdrop of immunity to other flaviviruses, she noted.
“The available defences against the mosquito responsible for the transmission of these viruses are no longer sufficient to resist its aggressive spread. Therefore, the development of affordable new tools by the scientific community, including diagnostic tests and a vaccine against ZIKAV, as well as innovation in vector control, are urgent priorities. Our health systems will need to be prepared to ensure such new tools are introduced and that their benefits reach everyone, not merely a few,” Etienne added.
Etienne outlined PAHO’s response to Zika spread, which coordinated more than 80 expert missions to 30 countries bringing in neurologists, neonatologists, obstetricians, epidemiologists, virologists, and specialists in research and health services organization.