South American health ministers launched emergency talks Wednesday on the fast-spreading Zika outbreak after a confirmed US case of sexual transmission of the virus, blamed for brain damage in babies.
Ministers from 13 countries including the two reportedly worst affected, Brazil and Colombia, gathered in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo to coordinate their fight against the mosquito-borne illness.
Arriving at the meeting, Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Castro told reporters his country had deployed 522,000 personnel to prevent infections by cleaning up and advising the population.
BRAZIL HARDEST HIT
Mr Castro called it “the biggest effort in Brazil’s history.”
Brazil has reported 1.5 million cases of infection by Zika, more than any other country.
The fever starts with a mosquito bite and normally involves little more than a fever and rash.
But scientists “suspect that when it strikes a pregnant woman it can cause her foetus to develop microcephaly - a condition which causes the baby to be born with an abnormally small head.’’
Since October, Brazil has reported 3,670 suspected cases of microcephaly, of which 404 have been confirmed - up from 147 in 2014.
TEXAS SEXUAL TRANSMISSION
Alarm rose on Tuesday when authorities in Texas said they had confirmation of the virus being transmitted by sexual contact and not just tropical mosquitoes.
A patient there was infected following sexual contact with someone who had returned to the United States after catching it in Venezuela.
Authorities are concerned over the threat to the Olympic Games to be held in Brazil in August.
The World Health Organization has declared the spike in serious birth defects in South America an international emergency and launched a global Zika response unit.
Wednesday’s meeting in Uruguay involved delegates from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Suriname, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
It was also attended by a delegation from the Pan-American Health Organisation.
The Zika virus gets its name comes from a forest in Uganda where it was first discovered in infected rhesus monkeys in 1947.
Within years, the virus had spread to humans in Uganda and Tanzania, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Like dengue fever and chikungunya, two similar diseases, Zika is transmitted by mosquito species found in tropical and sub-tropical regions: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, or tiger mosquitoes.
How do I know if I have it?: In 70 to 80 per cent of cases, the disease goes unnoticed. The symptoms resemble those of a mild case of the flu - headache, muscle and joint pain, and mild fever - plus a rash.