Although most people were shocked to learn that WHO (World Health Organization) has removed Zika’s “emergency” status, the United Nations agency stated that the action was simply part of the realization that Zika is “here to stay” and not downgrade the seriousness of the global threat it maintains.
Zika was first declared a “Public Health Emergency” last February when the virus began appearing in clusters, particularly in Brazil as the country was in the midst of preparing for the Summer Olympics. It was not long, however, that the mosquito-borne disease began to rapidly spread throughout more than 30 nations in the Americas and Caribbean, where thousands of cases of birth defects caused by Zika have since been reported. In fact, more than 2100 incidents of babies being born with nervous system defect to have been reported in Brazil alone.
Zika is most commonly linked to microcephaly (abnormally small head size and brain damage) in newborns after their mothers were infected during pregnancy. Zika has also been found to cause Guilain-Barre syndrome, a condition resulting in temporary paralysis in older patients.
This is not to say, however, that everyone infected will become sick. Many people don’t exhibit any symptoms. In fact, when they do occur many symptoms may resemble dengue fever including fever, red eyes, joint pain, headache, and a maculopapular rash, which last less than a week. Diagnosis is by testing the blood, urine, or saliva for the presence of Zika virus RNA when the person is sick.
The virus was first isolated in a rhesus macaque near Lake Victoria in Uganda back in 1947. However, it was not detected in humans in the region until 1952. From then on Zika was reported in other African countries including Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Gabon, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania, as well as in parts of Asia such as India, Pakistan. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. It should be noted that there were only 14 confirmed human cases of Zika infection from Africa and Southeast Asia reported between its discovery and 2007.
WHO went on to report that while there have been a variety of effective vaccines to fight various mosquito-borne diseases, including yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and tick-borne encephalitis, since the 1930s, as well as a vaccine against dengue fever since the mid-2010s, there is no such preventative against Zika at this time. Meanwhile, they have set a priority to develop inactivated vaccines and other non-live vaccines, which are safe to for pregnant women and those of childbearing age as quickly as possible.
In addition, the agency reports continuing research to develop a vaccine against and treatment for the Ebola virus, which has devastated much of West Africa since 2014. Although unrelated, both Zika and Ebola have been found to be transmitted through intercourse and the exchange of bodily fluids, including blood transfusions from infected patients.