Containing the Zika virus

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Containing the Zika virus

Health authorities are grappling with the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has spread at an alarming pace from last year in Brazil and other Latin American countries and has now been reported in the United States, Europe and Asia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the virus has affected 23 countries and is spreading “explosively.” It predicts as many as four million could be infected in North America.

The mosquito-carried virus can result in minor illnesses such as fever and rash, but it can be serious in pregnant women as it has been linked to thousands of microcephaly birth defects characterized by a malformed or smaller head and brain that can result in serious developmental delays.

The WHO will hold a meeting on Feb. 1 to possibly declare an international health emergency. The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified it as a legitimate infectious disease and embarked on quarantine actions.

The virus lacks any preventive vaccine and cure. Apart from the fact that it is carried by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes commonly found in the Americas, the virus has not been studied, and there is a lack of conclusive information.

Thorough quarantine action is the only protection against a contagious disease. Although the spread is currently limited to the Western Hemisphere, the Summer Olympics are being held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in August and the Special Olympics the following month. Authorities must be preemptive and proactive to preclude even the slightest chance of the virus strain from entering the country.

Authorities must form tight connections with public and private medical centers, as well as air and sea gateways. The central and local governments must sterilize all waterways and drains and double-check areas for mosquitoes before the weather warms.

Pregnant women and others all must strictly follow the travel ban in highly risky areas - 21 Latin American countries as well as Thailand, Cape Verde and Samoa in the Pacific. Both average people and the authorities must be different in their actions and mind-set than last year’s outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 30

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