The Stream

Understanding the Zika threat

Spread of Zika virus declared global public health emergency by WHO.

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been “spreading explosively” in the Americas. Cases have been reported in 23 countries and an estimated 3-4 million infections are expected in the next year. The virus, which was first detected in the Americas last year, has been linked with brain defects in unborn children and lifelong development issues. Most of those who are infected show no symptoms which makes tracking the virus extremely challenging.

As a way to curb its spread, governments in a number of infected countries, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Ecuador, are advising women to avoid pregnancy. This has reignited the debate around reproductive rights in Latin America, where access to abortion or contraception is either illegal or limited for the most part.

There is currently no cure for the Zika virus. A number of institutions are scrambling to develop a vaccine, but it is unlikely to be available for wide scale use for a number of years. In the meantime, to fight the outbreak, many countries are fumigating areas with mosquito breeding grounds. Brazil, which has had nearly 1.5 million reported Zika cases in since May 2015, has promised the deployment of 220,000 troops to assist with the distribution of informational pamphlets and help find areas with dense mosquito populations.  

While some are sounding the alarm over the Zika outbreak, others are urging calm. Have any comments or questions about this spreading virus? Join our conversation at 19:30 GMT. 

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

María Alejandra Cárdenas Cerón @MAlejandraCC
Regional Legal Director, Women’s Link Worldwide

Dr. Mustapha Debboun @MDebboun
Director, Mosquito Control Division

Benjamin Neuman @DrBenNeuman
Virologist, University of Reading

Tara Smith @aetiology
Infectious disease epidemiologist

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