WHO South-East Asia Region has urged countries in the region to strengthen surveillance and take preventive measures against the Zika virus disease which is strongly suspected to have a causal relation with clusters of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities.
WHO has declared the recent clusters of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in the Americas region as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
The Zika virus is of concern in the WHO South-East Asia Region as the Aedes aegyptii mosquito, responsible for its spread, is found in many areas and there is no evidence of immunity to the Zika virus in many populations of the Region.
In the past sporadic Zika virus cases were reported from Thailand and Maldives.
The Zika virus, first discovered in Uganda in 1947, is spread through bites from Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector for dengue. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild with the symptoms lasting a week. There is no vaccine for Zika virus disease.
The regional director, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh is recommending countries to build capacity of their laboratories to detect the virus and strengthen surveillance for cases of fever and rash, neurological syndromes and birth defects. Countries should intensify their vector control program and prepare health services for managing Zika virus disease.
All sectors that can assist, should be engaged, and the public informed of the risks and preventive measures against Zika virus disease. People can protect themselves against mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, and using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows. Everyone should help prevent breeding of mosquitoes by emptying containers that hold standing water in and around their houses.
Dr Singh has urged countries to share information on suspected Zika virus disease to enable early detection and containment of any outbreak in the WHO South-East Asia Region. In the region, WHO is providing support to countries to step up surveillance and preventive measures against Zika virus disease.
WHO has activated its new incident management system, established under the Organization’s emergency reform programme. WHO is supporting countries to reduce the international spread of the disease and in countries where the disease has been detected, to help understand the potential link between the Zika virus and birth defects.