(By – Jennifer Kates, Josh Michaud, and Allison Valentine – Kaiser Family Foundation)
The recent and rapid spread of Zika virus, a mosquito-transmitted infection, into the Americas is the latest in a series of emerging infectious diseases that pose new threats to human health. Active Zika transmission is now reported in 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as several other territories, and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts it could affect 4 million people across the Americas this year alone. On February 1 following an emergency meeting of experts, WHO declared that clusters of birth defects associated with Zika infection during pregnancy constitute a “public health event of international concern” requiring a stepped up, coordinated global response.
Of particular concern is the association between Zika infection and microcephaly, a severe birth defect of the newborn brain. While the links between Zika and microcephaly and other complications among newborns are still being explored, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health authorities have already issued guidance to pregnant women and those seeking to become pregnant to consider delaying travel to Zika-affected areas, and for those living in countries with widespread Zika transmission to avoid exposure to mosquito bites. In some countries public health authorities have gone even further, recommending that women postpone becoming pregnant for a period of time; most notably, the Minister of Health of El Salvador, a country which is experiencing a rise in suspected Zika cases, has recommendeddelaying pregnancy until 2018. Read more…
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