(Reuters) The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says the mosquito-borne Zika virus has spread rapidly throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean this year after it was first detected in Brazil in 2015.
“By the close of this year, 48 countries and territories in the Americas had reported more than 532,000 suspected cases of Zika, including 175,063 confirmed cases. In addition, 22 countries and territories reported 2,439 cases of congenital syndrome associated with Zika. Five countries had reported sexually transmitted Zika cases,” PAHO said.
It said Zika, the first mosquito-borne flavivirus found to be also sexually transmissible and to cause birth defects, spread quickly, noting that before 2015, little was known about Zika apart from reports of earlier small outbreaks in Micronesia and French Polynesia.
“But the outbreak in Brazil’s northeast drew global notice and apprehension as graphic images of newborns with microcephaly, or smaller than normal heads, appeared widely.
PAHO’s Dominica-born Director Carissa F. Etienne recounting Zika’s sudden appearance in Brazil in May 2015 and its rapid spread throughout the Americas, noting, “no one could have imagined two years ago that our children would be affected by microcephaly as a result of this once-dormant villain.
“There is a still long way to go on Zika. The development of affordable new tools by the scientific community, including diagnostic tests and a vaccine against Zika, as well as innovation in vector control, is an urgent priority. Our health systems will need to be prepared to ensure such new tools are introduced and that their benefits reach everyone, not merely a few,” she added.
She said in the Americas, “Zika was first confirmed while we were preparing for Ebola and responding to chikungunya.