A public health emergency spreading quickly

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – There is a growing concern of a public health emergency that affects unborn babies that is quickly spreading from Latin America to the Caribbean.

The Zika virus is transmitted by the mosquito, aedes aegypti, which can develop to a mild illness of a low grade fever and an itchy rash.

“Many of the people who are infected actually never develop symptoms,” said Dr. Albert Ko at Yale School of Public Health.

For 20 years, the Chair of the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases and fellow colleagues have collaborated with the Brazilian Ministry of Health in the city of Salvador, solving health problems emerging from slum communities.

Now, they’re faced with a baffling public health emergency, the increasing number of women infected with the Zika virus who are giving birth to babies with microcephaly. Babies born with a smaller than normal head due to the brain not developing properly.

“We don’t know what is the exact risk. We know that Zika virus can cause these congenital birth defects, but we don’t have the exact numbers on how many women who have been exposed will end up developing these birth defects,” said Ko.

The push is on to come up with answers.

“We are working together with local clinicians, public health authorities to develop surveillance at hospitals, maternity hospitals training people to do, to carry out investigations of this outbreak, ” says Dr. Ko.

The type of mosquito that carries Zika can be found in southern United States. Ko says the risk of an outbreak is likely low and limited to small clusters of cases, if there are any.

“In the United States we have winters and colder season which reduce not only the abundancy of the mosquitoes that transmits the disease, but the ability of that virus to propagate and spread from human to mosquito to human,” said Ko.

Cases have been reported in Puerto Rico.

“We haven’t had any outbreaks or any transmission in the U.S. other than those people returning as travelers,” said Ko.

Right now the focus is on stemming the potentially frightening outcome.

“You can also imagine the fear that’s happening among women of child-baring age and parents who are thinking of having children, as well as women who are already pregnant.”

Ko’s biggest concern is that what they are seeing right now in Brazil could be repeated in other countries six to nine months from now.

U.S. health officials are recommending pregnant women should considering delaying visits to 22 destinations.

In Latin America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela.

In the Caribbean: Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin and Puerto Rico, including Cape Verde, off the coast of Western Africa and Samoa in the South Pacific.

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