The news of an outbreak of the Zika virus in South America is a grim reminder of the health hazards associated with a warming world, Climate and Health Alliance Executive Director Fiona Armstrong said today.
A study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases this week documents the spread of the virus in Columbia, while Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika virus, which is being linked to the deaths of babies affected by microencephaly, or abnormally small brains.
Health authorities in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador and Jamaica are warning women to avoid having children if they cannot avoid mosquito bites.
In December, the Brazilian health ministry described the situation as a health emergency as it investigated more than more than 2400 suspected cases of microcephaly and 29 infant deaths.
Women who are pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant are being warned to avoid travel to any of the 24 countries in the Americas where the Zika virus has been identified.
“Regions with increasing average temperatures are at increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases, as mosquitoes thrive in and move to warmer regions,” says Armstrong.
“Zika is the latest example of the many mosquito-borne viruses which pose an increasing threat to humans due to warmer and wetter conditions associated with climate change.”
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalisation is uncommon.