The World Health Organisation has announced that Zika virus strain, responsible for the outbreaks in Brazil, has been detected in Africa for the first time.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said,
“This information will help African countries to re-evaluate their level of risk and adapt and increase their levels of preparedness.”
The organization expressed its concern that the latest strain of Zika was spreading to other parts of the world and was now “on the doorstep of Africa”.
The virus is currently suspected to be circulating in Cape Verde, an archipelago off the north west coast of Africa. There have been more than 7,000 suspected cases of Zika that have been already reported in Cape Verde. Around 180 pregnant women are believed to have been infected with the Zika Virus.
The WHO also reported that three babies have been born in Cape Verde with microcephaly.
Zika virus strain is responsible for the outbreaks in Brazil that has been linked with neurological disorders including women giving births to babies with small brains. It is caused primarily by a virus that is spread through the Aedes mosquito. Most people who get infected have no symptoms. The most common symptoms include fever, rash, muscle pains, joint pains and conjunctivitis.
There have been around 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly, babies born with small brains, in Brazil. There are thousands of cases that are still under investigation.
Zika Virus Protection
Dr Matshidiso Moeti said protection from the virus could only be done if the African countries raise awareness of the virus among pregnant women. They should be made aware of the complications caused with the Zika virus.
The African countries should also encourage people to protect themselves against mosquito bites and sexual transmission, she said.
However, she said that she would not recommend strict travel restrictions to try to prevent the spread of the disease.
Scientists were earlier not aware if the African or the Asian type of virus caused the outbreak in Cape Verde.
When the virus was sequenced by scientists in Senegal, it was discovered that the outbreak was caused by the Asian strain, which has hit Brazil and other Latin American countries and is responsible for the birth abnormalities in Brazil.
A UK researcher said the Zika virus has been circulating at low levels in African countries for more than 50 years.
Therefore, he asserted that it was possible that some of the population in the African countries may already be immune to the virus.
“It is likely that the South American, Caribbean and Polynesian populations had no prior immunity to the virus, so a high proportion of people who are bitten by infected mosquitos caught the disease,” said Dr Anna Checkley, of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, University College London Hospitals.