WHO warns South American Zika virus strain ‘on the doorstep of Africa’ – Telegraph.co.uk

5 months ago Comments Off on WHO warns South American Zika virus strain ‘on the doorstep of Africa’ – Telegraph.co.uk

The Zika virus that has caused birth abnormalities and neurological defects in South America has been identified in Africa for the first time, raising fears it could soon become a global concern, the World Health Organisation said on Friday. 

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa director, said that research conducted on samples of a virus that is thought to have affected more than 7,000 in Cape Verde had shown a match to the one circulating in Brazil and other Latin American countries. 

“The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa,” she said.

The WHO will has not yet recommended a travel ban for Cape Verde, an Atlantic archipelago around 350 miles west of Senegal, which has historic ties to Brazil. But it has identified the African countries at highest risk, including conflict areas where medical systems have collapsed, such as Central African Republic, Madagascar, and South Sudan.

“This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness,” she said.  

The alarm was raised about Zika just a day after the Red Cross warned of that an outbreak of deadly yellow fever in Angola could provoke a “global crisis” because of a low vaccination rate in Africa, poor disease surveillance systems, poor sanitation and frequent cross-border movement.

Since December 293 people have died in Angola and 2,200 more have been infected by the viral hemorrhagic disease which is also spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito which spreads the Zika virus. 

The Zika virus was first identified in, and took its name from, the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. All countries in the region are at risk for the virus’s transmission since the Aedes aegypti mosquito is endemic and flourishing in many of the continent’s cities where poor water storage and drainage conditions provide ample opportunities for breeding. 

There have been 7,557 suspected cases of the Zika virus in Cape Verde and three cases of the shrunken head syndrome microcephaly that affected the newborn babies of pregnant women affected by it in South Africa.

There is also strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults, although no cases of it have been reported in Cape Verde.

Sporadic outbreaks in Africa have been reported for several years and the WHO said Africans might have some immunity to the disease. However, it has also cautioned that the disease spreading rapidly across South America might not be known to Africa populations and could exact the same toll. 

Professor Lucille Blumberg, of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said the Ebola outbreak might have helped raised awareness about emerging viruses and prompted governments in Africa to build capacity to handle them. 

“At the moment there doesn’t seem to be an issue but the key will be to detect it if it does start circulating on the continent,” she said. “Until then we must just remain vigilant.”

WHO warns South American Zika virus strain ‘on the doorstep of Africa’ – Telegraph.co.uk