Mosquito on person's skin

Zika is No Longer a Global Emergency

World Health Organization Declares an End to the Global Health Emergency

In November 2016, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared an end to its global health emergency over the spread of the Zika virus. The global emergency was said to come to a close and should now be treated as an ongoing threat, such as other diseases like malaria. However, some public health officials still do not consider the Zika crisis over and believe that it was premature for W.H.O. to lift the global emergency.

Dr. Peter Salama, Executive Director of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program, said they are not trying to downplay the importance of the virus, and the agency will respond in the same way to the virus. Similar to other mosquito-borne illnesses, the Zika virus is seasonal and may frequently return to countries with the mosquitoes that carry it. The organization also claimed they will still make strides towards creating a technical committee to handle Zika research, vaccine development and other efforts going forward.

Experts are still worried that the W.H.O.’s statement might slow the international response to a virus that is still spreading, and make people at risk think they are now safe. Since February 1st, when W.H.O. first declared the global emergency, the Zika virus has spread to almost every country in the Western Hemisphere with thousands of babies suffering from birth defects, with even more to be expected. Recent outbreaks have even been detected in Southeast Asia, although the virus has been said to circulate there for decades.

Zika and Microcephaly are Still a High Priority

One of the most severe deformities of the disease is microcephaly, where infants are born with a tiny head with a severely underdeveloped brain. Infected infants also have been born blind, deaf, with clubbed feet, and in some cases, have been killed by the virus. Certain scientists also fear that many of the infected babies who show no signs of the virus may suffer from intellectual problems or mental illnesses later in their life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not commented on the W.H.O.’s decision but did note that it doesn’t change the need to continue their work around the virus. They also repeated the warning it issued in January that pregnant women should still avoid traveling to areas where the virus was being transmitted.

Other experts have had more opinions on the matter. Dr. Fauci, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, deemed W.H.O.’s decision “unwise.” He suggested that although the virus recently hasn’t affected as many infants as expected, the W.H.O.’s decision to call off the global emergency may have given a reason for certain governments and donors to pull back their efforts for the virus even more. Other experts also mentioned that if more and more headlines suggest that the crisis is over, it might lead to people taking fewer precautions against sexual and mosquito-borne transmission.

Although the Zika Virus hasn’t affected as many infants as expected recently, public health officials also believe that some areas are still at risk. The disease may have run its course in northeast Brazil, but southern Brazil and some areas in the Amazon have yet to see the virus. Generally, when a large portion of the population has been infected with a virus and recovered from it, the transmission of a virus usually ends for several years. However, the full extent of the damage in Latin America is unknown as many infected babies have yet to be born. Although technically the Zika virus is no longer considered an emergency under the 2005 international health regulations, there is still much to learn about the virus and should still be considered a serious threat to pregnant women and their families.

Talking to Your Fertility Specialist About Zika

Although the Zika virus is not considered a global emergency anymore, it’s still in your best interest to take preventive measures against the disease. You can start by staying up to date on current news surrounding the virus, being aware of how and where the infection spreads and avoiding traveling to the infected countries altogether. Should you possibly be exposed, please consult your physician. Abstain or have protected intercourse for 8 weeks if you are a female and 6 months if you a male. If you still feel worried, our highly trained fertility specialists at NYU Langone Reproductive Specialists of New York can help you safely begin your journey to becoming a mother. Request an appointment with us today at one of our four fertility centers in New York to talk with one of our dedicated fertility specialists.