On 1 February 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern because of the recent cluster of neurological disorders and neonatal malformations reported in the Americas region. This comes after the International Health Regulation Emergency Committee agreed that a causal link between this cluster and Zika virus disease is strongly suspected. It constitutes an “extraordinary event” and a public health threat to other parts of the world.
The Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. People with Zika virus disease usually have a mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis. These symptoms nor-mally last for 2-7 days. There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available, the best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites. The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
The link between Zika virus and microcephaly
Recently in Brazil, local health authorities have observed an increase in Zika virus infections in the general public as well as an increase in babies born with microcephaly in northeast Brazil. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. This is frequently accompanied with mental disability of differing degrees.
Agencies investigating the Zika outbreaks are finding an increasing body of evidence about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly. However, more investigation is needed before we understand the relationship between microcephaly in babies and the Zika virus, according to WHO. Other potential causes are also being investigated.
DNA test for Zika virus detection
A highly sensitive DNA test to detect Zika virus, has been developed by Genekam Biotechnology AG, Germany. This was reported by Genekam on 27 January 2016. This kit can detect the virus in human samples as well as in mosquitoes, the price per test will be around 5 to 7 euros.
A test to detect Zika virus is very important, because every person carrying the virus does not necessarily develop the symptoms. The test is particularly important for women who have the virus but develop no symptoms, who are faced with an even higher risk of having babies with mi-crocephaly.
Detection is, therefore, only method to help stop the spread of virus. As it is a DNA test, it is highly sensitive and specific.
More information on the Zika virus at the WHO Fact-sheet