Zika virus scare
A health agent uses a new test kit that rapidly diagnoses three different mosquito-borne viruses in Sao Paulo, Brazil, January 18, 2016. Brazil said on Monday pregnant women should consult their doctors before traveling to the South American country but no other restrictions were necessary regarding the mosquito-borne Zika virus, eight months before the nation hosts the Olympic games.Reuters

Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 14 January declared an end to the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, which had killed thousands of people, a new scare, called the Zika virus, has reared its ugly head.

According to Pan Ameican Health Organisation (PAHO), confirmed cases of Zika virus have been reported in several parts of Latin America and South America.

The BBC reported a rise of the number of babies in Brazil born with microcephaly, a medical condition where the head is abnormally small. It noted that since October, there have been 3,893 such cases.

The rise in the cases has prompted the US' Center for Disease Control & Prevention to issue warnings to pregnant women against travelling to Brazil, and Latin American and Caribbean countries affected by Zika virus, after a couple of pregnant women contracted the virus.

The Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that causes brain damage in infants born to affected mothers. It is interesting to note that Aedes aegypti — the mosquito that transmits it — is the same one that is notorious for spreading dengue and chikungunya.

In Brazil, there have been five infant deaths due to the virus, according to the country's health ministry, and investigations into 44 more deaths are under way.

Neighbouring Colombia has also reported 13,500 cases, while Bolivia has reported one case.

Containing the Zika outbreak will be Brazil's priority, with the country hosting the Rio 2016 Olympics in August.

"Rio 2016 will continue to monitor the issue closely and follow guidance from the Brazilian Ministry of Health," said Philip Wilkinson, a spokesman for the committee organising the Games, according to The New York Times.

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro has announced extra funds to speed up development of a vaccine for Zika. He also said a new testing kit was in development to check the presence of three viruses.

Also read