Tuesday, December 01, 2015

WHO/PAHO Issue Epidemiological Alert On Neurological Syndrome, Congenital Defects & Zika Virus





A rapidly evolving story we’ve been following closely for well over a week has been the sudden, and unprecedented spike in microcephalic birth defects reported in Brazil (see Brazilian MOH Reports 500 New Microcephaly Cases In Past Week). 


This surge in microcephaly comes just months after the mosquito-transmitted Zika Virus was first reported in Brazil, and we are beginning to get data from the Zika outbreak in French Polynesia that indicates a similar (albeit smaller) surge in neurological complications (see  ECDC: Complications Potentially Linked To The Zika Virus Outbreaks In Brazil & French Polynesia).


Complicating matters further, the Zika virus appears to be spreading rapidly across both Central and South America, and the Caribbean and even parts of North America are at risk as well. The virus has now been reported in 9 countries in the Americas; Brazil, Chile (on Easter Island), Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Today the World Health Organization and PAHO have issued a joint Epidemiological Alert, which runs 11 pages in length.  Far too large to reprint here.  It may be downloaded in PDF format from:


PAHO/WHO Epidemiological Alerts and Updates


The gist can be read in the abstract, which reads:

Given the increase of congenital anomalies, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and other neurological and autoimmune syndromes in areas where Zika virus is circulating and their possible relation to the virus, the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) recommends its Member States establish and maintain the capacity to detect and confirm Zika virus cases, prepare healthcare facilities for the possible increase in demand at all healthcare levels and specialized care for neurological syndromes, and to strengthen antenatal care. In addition, Member States should continue efforts to reduce the presence of mosquito vectors through an effective vector control strategy and public communication.





These are early days, of course, and the investigation into this virus – and the health risks – are just getting started.  Given the severe consequences of infection, particularly for pregnant women and their unborn children, an aggressive posture when it comes to surveillance, and prevention, makes sense.


For more on this evolving story you may want to read Lisa Schnirring’s coverage on CIDRAP News  ( see Zika virus spreads to more countries), check out FluTracker’s Zika Virus Forum, or revisit these recent Zika blogs:


Brazilian MOH Statement On Zika Virus, Microcephaly & Deaths
WHO Update: Microcephaly In Brazil
Post-Zika Outbreak Spike In Congenital Abnormalities In Brazil & French Polynesia
ECDC Risk Assessment: Microcephaly In Brazil Potentially Linked To The Zika Virus Epidemic