Sexual transmission of Zika 'more common than thought'
09 March 2016, 16:37
Geneva – Sexual transmission of the
Zika virus is more common than previously thought and there is increasing
evidence that a spike in disturbing birth defects and neurological problems are
caused by Zika, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
When the WHO declared the explosive
outbreak in the Americas to be a global emergency last month, it said that the
evidence that Zika, which is mostly spread by mosquito bites, was
responsible was only circumstantial.
After a meeting of its emergency
committee on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said "reports and
investigations in several countries strongly suggest that sexual transmission
of the virus is more common than previously assumed".
The US is investigating more than a
dozen possible cases of Zika in people who may have been infected through sex.
Chan also said nine countries have now
reported increasing cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition that can
cause temporary paralysis and death.
She said that problems linked to Zika,
including Guillain-Barre syndrome, are now being seen not just in women of
child-bearing age, but children, teenagers and older adults.
Zika is also now spreading to new
countries, WHO said. It noted local transmission has now been reported in 31
countries across Latin America and the Caribbean.
"All of this news is
alarming," Chan said.
Despite the lack of definitive evidence
proving that Zika causes birth defects and neurological problems, Chan said
officials shouldn't wait for definitive scientific proof before making
WHO's emergency committee called for
"intensified" research into the relationship between new clusters of
babies born with abnormally small heads and other neurological disorders.
It said particular attention should be
given to studying the genetics of the different Zika virus strains and
establishing studies to determine if there is a causal relationship.
So far, cases of babies born with
small, deformed heads linked to Zika have only been confirmed in Brazil and
French Polynesia, though officials say they expect reports from other countries
once the virus has been circulating there long enough to affect pregnant women.
Colombia has reported several suspected
cases of microcephaly.
WHO recommends pregnant women avoid
travel to areas with ongoing Zika outbreaks and that if their partners travel
to affected countries, they should practice safe sex or abstain from sex for
the duration of their pregnancy.