The World Health Organisation has said that mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile.

b’Trays with the larvae of Aedes aegyti mosquito are seen in a research area to help prevent the spread of Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, at the entomology department of the Minister of Public Health, in Guatemala City | Source: Reuters’

Here is what Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, WHO informed on Twitter:

Recently, WHO also released its fact sheet on Zika virus on its website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned travellers via Twitter to consider postponing travel to areas with ongoing Zika transmission.

Advisory For Pregnant Women

On Tuesday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued interim guidelines for health care professionals in the United States caring for infants born to mothers who traveled or lived in an area with Zika virus transmission during pregnancy. It was done after pediatricians worked closely with obstetricians caring for pregnant women exposed to the virus during pregnancy, monitoring fetal ultrasounds and testing infants with signs of a birth defect called microcephaly marked by small head size.

The El Salvador Health Department instructed its health officials to advise all women of reproductive age to delay pregnancy until 2018 due to concerns about possible birth defects linked to the virus. However, activists have slammed the move saying women in the region often have little choice about becoming pregnant.

b’A health agent collects blood from a child with a new test kit that rapidly diagnoses three different mosquito-borne viruses in Sao Paulo, Brazil | Source: Reuters’

Impact on travel industry

Airlines, hotels and cruise operators are bearing the brunt of growing concern among travellers due to the virus. The tourism sector in Latin America and Caribbean nations has taken a hit. Tour operators are regularly facing questions from concerned tourists across the globe who are rescheduling their travel plans. United Airlines has allowed customers who had reserved tickets for travel to Zika-impacted regions to postpone their trips or obtain refunds with no penalty. Norweign Cruise Line and its rival Carnival Corp said that they would allow expectant mothers to reschedule their travel itineraries if they are covered under the CDC advisories.

Hotel chain Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc said in a statement it was working closely with local health authorities throughout the region to follow CDC prevention recommendations

b”Graph of the symptoms of the Zika virus is seen behind of Colombia’s Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria (R) during a news conference on the Zika virus in Bogota, Colombia”
  • On Tuesday, just over a week before Rio kicks off annual Carnival celebrations, the city deployed workers to spray insecticide at the parade grounds where the marquee festivities occur. Marcelo Castro, Brazil’s health minister announced plans to deploy 2,20,000 troops in February to distribute educational pamphlets and help scour cities for mosquito breeding grounds.
  • More than 3,000 municipal health agents are deployed across Rio targeting mosquito hotbeds who will be inspecting daily during the big events.
  • Government is preparing an international campaign through social media and travel agencies to inform potential visitors about the virus, and what Brazil is doing to fight it, in a bid to avoid any impact on the Olympics.

Doctors and public health administrators say the challenge is to get citizens engaged in the struggle against the mosquito. Poor development and gaping inequality across Latin America are the main reasons for urban infestations. Some people have a hostile attitude towards a public sector that often fails to provide basic health, sanitation, education and other public services thus making it extremely difficult for the government to carry out services.

“A lot of people don’t want to hear anything the city or state has to say. It’s hard to get people involved when health workers are considered outsiders,” said Hermano de Castro, director of the National School of Public Health at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a health institute run by Brazil’s government.

b’A public health technician shows the cultivated eggs of Aedes aegyti mosquitoes in a research area to help prevent the spread of Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, at the entomology department of the Minister of Public Health, in Guatemala City xc2xa0| Source: Reuters’

The outbreaks come at a time when Rio’s state government, strapped for cash because of plummeting royalties from offshore oil fields, has been forced to shutter hospitals and research laboratories.

“We can’t even control dengue and now we have Zika to battle,” said Daniel Becker, a prominent paediatrician in Rio who, like many doctors, fears the microcephaly scare might lead to a dangerous surge in clandestine abortions in Brazil, where terminating pregnancies is illegal.

(With inputs from Reuters)

(Feature image source: AFP)