WHO declares Zika virus a global health emergency

Joanne Corrielus, Staff Writer

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency as the number of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders rapidly increase in areas where the Zika virus is prevalent.

The virus, which originated in Africa, has been raging throughout the Americas in recent months, and has caused the issuing of travel alerts for over 20 countries, according to the  Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

One of the countries where the Zika virus is most prevalent is Brazil, which is where the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held. The high number of cases of the Zika virus in Brazil has caused mounting concern from the international community.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Once infected, the virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn child and can cause a birth defect called microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a birth defect of the brain that causes the head of a baby to be smaller than other babies of the same sex and age. According to the CDC, there are two different ways this birth defect can occur. Microcephaly can occur when the brain doesn’t develop properly during pregnancy or when the brain stops growing after birth.

Children with microcephaly can have a variety of health problems including but not limited to hearing loss, developmental delays and intellectual disabilities. However, because every case is different, some children with microcephaly will not experience any health problems at all.

Due to the link between microcephaly and the Zika virus, the CDC and WHO have urged pregnant woman, and woman who are trying to become pregnant, to not travel to countries where cases of the Zika virus have been found.

However, new evidence has found that not only can the Zika virus be spread from mother to unborn child, but it can also be transmitted through sexual contact. In addition, the virus has also been detected in saliva and urine, according to CNN.

Health officials in Dallas, Texas, reported a case in which a patient became infected with the virus after having sex with their partner, who had just returned from Venezuela and had been infected with the virus, according to CNN.

Because of this, the CDC has recommended that men who have traveled to countries affected by the Zika virus should use condoms when having sex with their pregnant partners.

Nonetheless, the spread of the Zika virus has put people on high alert, including here in the United States.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in four counties where the Zika virus has been reported, according to ABC News.

At St. John’s, the Division of Student Affairs sent out an e-mail reminding students who will be traveling to Zika virus-affected countries, to be cautious and take preventative measures.

However, to some students, the Zika virus is being made bigger than it really is.

“It is not as big of a deal as people are making it,” freshman Kaitlin Evans said. “It’s like all of the other epidemics; it’ll blow over soon.”

To other students, the information given to the public about the virus isn’t enough.

Junior Gabriela Mantilla said it hasn’t been as publicized as Ebola so a lot of people don’t see it as a big deal.

However, Mantilla added that people shouldn’t be limited to travel and should take measures to protect themselves from getting infected.

The CDC is asking pregnant woman who recently traveled to a country affected by the virus and who have experienced symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes within 2 weeks of returning to contact their healthcare provider immediately.

As reported by The Washington Post, The Obama Administration asked Congress for $1.8 billion to battle the Zika virus abroad and in the United States on Feb. 8. A statement released by the administration said, “We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus.”