The World Health Organization (WHO) is not recommending any travel or trade restrictions as a result of the recent outbreak of the Zika virus in the Americas region, although declaring it on Monday as “a public health emergency of international concern”.
The statement followed the first meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee in Geneva to discuss the virus.
The Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes, is suspected to be linked to the recent cluster of microcephaly (malformations of the head and brain) in the children of women infected while pregnant. The clusters were found in Brazil recently and in French Polynesia in 2014.
Zika virus: A public health threat
“The International Health Regulation Emergency Committee agreed that a causal link between this cluster and Zika virus disease is strongly suspected”, WHO Director Dr Margaret Chan said.
“It constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health threat to other parts of the world.”
According to Dr Chan, a coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, detect infections, intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.
No travel restrictions
WHO underlined that there should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission as it has not found a public health justification for such measures.
However, travellers to areas with Zika virus transmission should be provided with up to date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites.
Also, standard WHO recommendations regarding disinsection of aircraft and airports should be implemented.
“At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women”, Dr Chan concluded.