Rio De Janeiro: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called for Latin America to launch a region-wide fight against the Zika virus, blamed for a surge in brain-damaged babies, as alarm rose over the world's latest health scare.
Brazil has been the country hardest hit by the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus, which is blamed for a sharp rise in infants born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads. The outbreak is particularly concerning officials as the country prepares to host the Olympics, which will bring hundreds of thousands of travellers from around the world to Rio de Janeiro in August.
But Brazil is far from alone: Zika has spread to some 20 countries in Latin America and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns it is expected to spread to every country in the Americas except Canada and Chile. Nicaragua confirmed its first two cases yesterday. Denmark and Switzerland meanwhile joined a growing number of European countries to report Zika infections among
travellers returning from Latin America.
The returning travellers in those two countries were not pregnant and the disease has not been transmitted within Europe or the United States.
US President Barack Obama called for faster research on the quick-moving virus, urging better diagnostic tests and the development of vaccines and treatments. There is currently no specific treatment for Zika and no way to prevent it other than avoiding mosquito bites. Rousseff said yesterday she had asked a summit of the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to launch "cooperative action in the fight against the Zika virus."
Zika originated in Africa and also exists in Asia and the Pacific, but has not been associated with microcephaly there. The virus first came to prominence in Brazil in October.
In Brazil, cases of microcephaly — which can cause brain damage or death in babies — have surged from 163 a year on average to more than 3,718 suspected cases since the outbreak, according to new figures from the health ministry.