On 1 February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the ‘recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil… constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International concern’.
According to Elana Venter, Head: Occupational Health Practice, “Given potential travel to affected countries, the UJ Occupational Health Practice (OHP) is conducting surveillance on emerging outbreaks. The objective is to provide UJ employees with an informed and early alert in relation to destination risk.”
The spread of the virus has prompted UJ OHP to advise outbound travellers planning to visit areas with active transmission to consult professional nurses at UJ clinics and conduct a pre-travel health risk assessment. ‘Upon your visit to the OHP, we assess your destination health risks, including travel alerts, epidemics or emerging disease outbreaks. A further assessment of your health and vaccine status completes the decision on fitness to travel,’ added Venter.
UJ’s fourfold response:
1. Posting of links/updates on the UJ Intranet under the Registrar’s Portfolio: Occupational Health Practice (Travel Health)
2. The OHP provides clinical advice, posters and updates to UJ Healthcare workers at campus clinics
3 Travel alerts are sent to UJ employees and travel coordinators
4 Returning travellers from affected countries presenting with symptoms will be screened for Zika virus infection.
Facts about Zika:
– The Zika virus is spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito, the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. There is no vaccine for Zika.
– The Zika virus is usually relatively mild, with symptoms such as skin rash, fever,
muscle and joint pain, lasting up to seven days. It is uncommon for people infected with Zika to need hospital treatment.
– In the Americas, there is no evidence that the Zika virus can cause death, PAHO says, but sporadic cases have been reported of more serious complications in people with pre-existing diseases or conditions, causing death.
– Researchers in Brazil and WHO say there is growing evidence that links Zika to
microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which babies are born with smaller-than-normal heads and brains, but information about the possible transmission of Zika from infected mothers to babies during pregnancy or childbirth is “very limited”, PAHO says.
– In northeast Brazil, there has been a marked increase in cases of new born babies
with microcephaly. Brazil’s health ministry has said the number of suspected cases of microcephaly in newborns increased by about 360 in the 10 days to Jan. 16 to 3,893.
– Brazil has the highest rate of infection, followed by Colombia. Zika outbreaks have
also been reported in Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico,
Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela, among others.
– Colombia’s health ministry says Zika has already infected 13,500 people across the
country and there could be as many as 700,000 cases this year.
– In Colombia, it is estimated that 500 babies will be born with microcephaly, according to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
– Colombia’s health ministry has advised women to delay becoming pregnant for six to eight months to avoid possible risks related to the Zika virus.
– Jamaica has not reported any confirmed cases of Zika, but the health ministry has
recommended women delay becoming pregnant for the next six to 12 months. El
Salvador has advised women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018.
– Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned
pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean affected by the virus.
– One in four people infected with Zika develop symptoms and many cases of Zika go undetected, making it difficult to estimate the true scale of the outbreak in the Americas. PAHO says there are no reliable estimates of the number of cases in the region. Based on reports from affected countries, PAHO estimates there are at least 60,000 suspected cases of Zika, though the real figure is thought to be far higher.
(Sources: World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization
(PAHO), Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), Colombian Ministry of