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Zika: A Public Health Emergency


Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.

By Samer Koutoubi, M.D., Ph.D.
Program Director and Faculty Member, Public Health at American Public University

As the Ebola virus is still fresh in our minds and the World Health Organization (WHO) admits that the response to the Ebola virus was very slow, NOW is the time for public health officials and the CDC to act quickly to prevent the Zika virus from spreading.

Zika is not a new virus. It was reported in the 1950s in Africa and Asia. In 2007, Zika was reported from the islands in the Pacific Ocean. Since January 1, 2016, cases have been reported in the Dominican Republic, France, Haiti, Bolivia, and in the United States (31 documented cases in 11 states and the District of Columbia).

According to WHO’s Director Margaret Chan, “The level of alarm is extremely high.” The WHO is declaring a public health emergency as the Zika virus has spread to more than 20 countries. The WHO estimates 3 million to 4 million people across the Americas will be infected with the Zika virus next year. For more information about the latest updates on countries affected by the Zika virus, please visit the World Health Organization’s website.

On January 15, 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory to many Latin American and Caribbean countries asking pregnant women to delay their travel to Brazil and other affected countries due to Zika.

In Brazil, more than 3,500 cases of microcephaly (small head among newborns) have been reported in the same areas where the Zika virus has been identified. Dr. Bruce Aylward (WHO’s Executive Director, Outbreaks and Health Emergencies) indicates that no definitive link exists between Zika and these microcephaly cases, but Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s Deputy Director, says there is a “strong” suggestion they are connected. The CDC is investigating whether there is a connection between Zika, the microcephaly cases and other paralyzing neurological conditions, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Zika is transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. According to the CDC, Zika’s symptoms include low fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain and headaches. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for the Zika virus is not known, but is likely to be from a few days to a week.

To date, there is no known vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus. Treating the general symptoms is the only available option. Controlling mosquitoes by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants is key to prevention. Please check the CDC Zika prevention website for more information.

Public health officials should continue to work with the CDC, international partners such as the World Health Organization and international government personnel to monitor the development of the Zika virus.  Now is the time to intensify our surveillance activities, follow our internal protocols for monitoring any new cases of the disease and educate the public about prevention measures against bites from Zika-infected mosquitoes.

For additional information, please visit the following websites:

About the Author
Dr. Koutoubi earned his Ph.D. in Dietetics and Nutrition from Florida International University in 2001. He earned his M.D. degree in 1988 from Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Dr. Koutoubi’s research focuses on coronary heart disease among tri-ethnic groups including African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. His interest is in disease prevention and wellness, epidemiological research, cardiovascular disease and nutrition, homocysteine metabolism, lipoprotein metabolism, and cultural food and health. He has also authored a number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and written a book review. He served as the Editor-in-Chief for The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine and reviewed manuscripts for The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Ethnicity and Disease Journal, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and The Journal of The National Medical Association. Dr. Koutoubi has also been quoted in national magazines and newspapers, including Natural Health Magazine, Energy Time, Well Being Journal, Northwest Prime Time and Natural Food Merchandiser.