United Nations, Feb 3 (IANS) The United Nations Children’ s Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday called for immediate action to help stop the spread of Zika virus which is the suspected underlying cause of soaring cases of microcephaly in newborn babies in Brazil.
“We need to act fast to provide women and pregnant mothers with the information they need to protect themselves and their babies,” Heather Papowitz, UNICEF’s senior advisor for health emergencies, said in a statement, according to Xinhua.
“And we need to engage with communities on how to stop the mosquito that is carrying and and transmitting this virus,” she said.
More than 4,000 registered cases of microcephaly in newborn babies in Brazil have been reported between October 22, 2015 and January 26, 2016, according to UNICEF, compared to just 147 cases in the whole country in 2014.
“Although there is still no conclusive evidence of the causal link between microcephaly and the Zika virus, there is enough concern to warrant immediate action,” said Papowitz.
Babies born with microcephaly have much smaller heads than expected. Depending on how severe the microcephaly is, they may also have other problems including developmental delay, intellectual disabilities, and hearing and vision loss, according to the US Centre for Disease Control.
UNICEF is launching an appeal for nearly $9 million to limit the spread of the virus and provide support to mothers and babies at risk of microcephaly.
Although the sharp increase in microcephaly has only so far been reported in Brazil, UNICEF is also increasing its support to the countries surrounding Brazil, as a precaution.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared on Monday that the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurologic disorders reported in Brazil constituted a public health emergency of international concern.
Rio 2016 hope Zika decline in time, suggest to close window
One day after World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an international emergency over the Zika virus, Rio 2016 organising committee believed the problem will clear up in time for the Games and suggested athletes and tourists to close window.
The mosquito-transmitted Zika virus outbreak in some countries of the Americas, notably Brazil, has been linked to cases of microcephaly, which causes underdeveloped brains in babies.
The casual relation between the Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected. Over 1.5 million Brazilians are estimated to have been infected by the virus over the past few months, Xinhua reported.
At a press conference held on Tuesday, Rio Olympic organisers are wary of Zika virus but also confident it will decline with the arrival of winter time during the Games.
The dry and cool weather in south hemisphere Rio at that time will help to decrease the mosquitos.
“In August, the number of mosquitos falls dramatically and the number of Zika cases will mirror this fall,” said Joao Grangeiro, director of medical services for the Rio 2016 organising committee.
Grangeiro said Rio 2016 has been updating the Zika situation in Brazil everyday with International Olympic Committee, and he recommended athletes and tourists keep their window closed, wear proper clothes and use repellent during the stay in Rio.
Brazil has warned pregnant women to stay away from the Summer Olympics, however Rio 2016 communications director Mario Andrada said he did not expect people to cancel trips to Rio for the Games as a result of the Zika virus outbreak.
He added that the organising committee would follow travel guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation.
As the first Olympics held in South America, Rio Olympics will be held between August 5-21.
US reports first locally transmitted case of Zika virus
The first locally transmitted case of Zika virus in the US has been reported in a county in Texas, the county’s health department said.
Dallas County Health and Human Services on Tuesday said in a statement that the patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present, Xinhua reported.
For medical confidentiality and personal privacy reasons, the agency did not provide additional identifying information.
“Now that we know Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, this increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others,” Zachary Thompson, director of the Dallas County Health and Human Services said.
“Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually-transmitted infections,” Thompson said.
Zika, transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, is believed to cause birth defects such as microcephaly, or small heads.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the disease.
About one in five people infected with Zika virus will develop symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain, and pink eye.
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and the case fatality rate is low.