By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
LAGOS — As part of preventive measures against possible outbreak of Zika virus, the Federal Government says it has put measures in place to ensure that the virus is not transmitted by mosquitoes in the country.
This is coming as the Director General of the World Health Organisation, WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan is convening an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus today in Geneva, Switzerland, to ascertain whether the Zika virus outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
Meanwhile, German researchers say they have developed a diagnostic test that can accurately detect the Zika virus in humans. Previously, there was no way to diagnose the illness apart from appearance of the distinctive symptoms.
In a telephone chat with Vanguard, the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Prof Abdulsalam Nasiru, said already the Federal Government has put in place mechanisms to stop the Zika virus from entering the country.
Part of the measures includes conducting epidemiological tests on mosquitoes to ensure they do not carry the virus.
According to him, as a follow up, there has been regular monitoring already and a meeting of stakeholders comprising experts on public health among others would be convene on Wednesday in Abuja.
Over the weekend, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, issues a travel alert to pregnant women from Nigeria not to travel to Brazil and other Latin American countries.
Briefing the WHO Executive Board during its 138th session, Chan said the level of alarm as extremely high. The Director General noted that WHO is generally worried about the rapidly evolving situation and decisions are expected to be taken at the meeting to step up international efforts to fight the threat.
The Zika virus has been tied to severe birth defects, including babies born with brain damage to infected mothers. There is no vaccine that can prevent the infection and very few tests available to detect it.
Worse still, people in most countries have never been exposed to the virus before, so there’s very little natural immunity to the virus in the general population.
The mosquito that carries the Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is the same mosquito that spreads the Chugwuniya fever and the yellow fever diseases, and is found in most parts of the world including Nigeria. A species of the same mosquito carries Dengue fever.
In recent times, public health officials around the world have expressed concern about the fast-spreading Zika virus
Speaking on the Zika threat, Assistant Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Bruce Aylward, said 3-4 million Zika infections in the Americas over the next 12 months.
In her contribution, Principal Deputy Director of the Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention, CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, noted that even though most people aren’t in any serious danger from Zika, the worrisome aspect to health officials, is that “increasing lines of evidence suggest that some women infected with Zika during their pregnancies may go on to deliver a baby with a serious brain injury.”
Since October 2015, Brazil has seen more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that stunts the growth of a baby’s brain and head. Many children with microcephaly have some degree of mental disability, and the condition is linked to a shorter life span.
In a related development, German researchers say they have developed a diagnostic test that can accurately detect the Zika virus in humans.
Until now, the only way to determine if someone had the illness was to wait to see if the disease’s distinctive symptoms appeared.
The biotechnological company, Genekam, claims the technology can not only reveal the presence of Zika pathogens in a blood sample, but also shed light on the quantity in the patient’s blood.
The new test is said to be able to determine if a person is a carrier of the Zika virus, and renders diagnostic results in real time.
According to a virologist and co-developer of the innovation, Sudhir Bhartia, the test examines DNA and works with chemicals that react to the Zika virus only.
The researcher also added that the test provides sufficient accuracy, as “similar pathogens like Dengue fever won’t show up in the results.
The technology which is cost effective however, has its limitations, as it can only be employed in specialized medical facilities and laboratories having the appropriate equipment and personnel with sufficient know-how.
Indications reveal that the first kits containing the new tests have already been sent to Brazil, where up to 1.5 million people may have been infected by the Zika virus.
Under normal circumstances, the test would go through a lengthy authorization phase. However, due to the emergency situation in South America, authorities have made an exception in this case.