The Zika virus outbreak is no longer an international health emergency but it needs ongoing, “intense action,” the World Health Organization says.
The committee on Zika and associated neurological disorders was convened by the UN health agency to assess the outbreak that is spread primarily by mosquitoes. It was declared an emergency nine months ago.
The emergency committee “felt that Zika virus and associated consequences remain a significant enduring public health challenge requiring intense action,” WHO said in a statement on Friday.
The main concern is how the virus can result in severe birth defects when pregnant women are infected.
WHO said it plans to shift to a longer-term approach against the virus.
Nearly 30 countries have reported birth defects linked to Zika. WHO says more than 2,100 cases of nervous-system malformations have been reported in Brazil alone.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said the health emergency declared by WHO was focused on understanding the role the virus played in the birth defect microcephaly and in Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder that can lead to paralysis.
More needs to be done, including trying to develop a vaccine, he added. The removal of the emergency declaration
“doesn’t change that fact.”
Zika can also be sexually transmitted.
Most infected people don’t get sick. The virus can cause a mild illness, with fever, rash and joint pain.
Dr. David Heymann, chair of the Zika Emergency Committee, said the Brazilian government is conducting studies to look into the number of cases there, particularly in the northeastern part of the country.
The WHO’s decision is understandable, given that the pace of new Zika infections has dropped off considerably in recent months, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease chief for the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
But Fauci also noted that Brazil is heading into its hottest months, when mosquito activity peaks and the outbreak could intensity.