Brazil declares end to Zika emergency after fall in cases


Brazil has declared an end to its public health emergency for the Zika virus. The Health Ministry said efforts to control the mosquitoes that spread Zika would continue as would assistance to affected families.
Brazil declared the emergency 18 months ago during a surge in cases of Zika and associated birth defects.

Most people infected with Zika never develop symptoms, but infection during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly, in which a baby’s skull is smaller than expected. This year, Zika cases have fallen dramatically. From January through to mid-April, the Health Ministry recorded 95% fewer cases than during the same period last year.

The World Health Organisation lifted its own international emergency in November, but cautioned that the virus remained a threat. Photos of babies with the birth defect spread panic around the Western Hemisphere and around the globe as the virus was reported in dozens of countries.

Many would-be travellers cancelled their trips to Zika-infected places, and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and others recommended that women who were pregnant should not travel to affected areas. The concern spread even more widely when health officials said it could also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.

The health scare came just as Brazil, the epicentre of the outbreak, was preparing to host the 2016 Olympics, fuelling concerns the Games could help spread the virus. One athlete, a Spanish wind surfer, said she got Zika while training in Brazil ahead of the Games.

In response to the outbreak, Brazil launched a mosquito-eradication campaign. The Health Ministry said those efforts have helped to dramatically reduce cases of Zika, and the incidence of microcephaly has fallen as well.

“The end of the emergency doesn’t mean the end of surveillance or assistance,” said Adeilson Cavalcante, the secretary for health surveillance at Brazil’s Health Ministry. “The Health Ministry and other organisations involved in this area will maintain a policy of fighting Zika, dengue and chikungunya.”
All three diseases are carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The WHO has warned that Zika is “here to stay”, even when cases fall off, and that fighting the disease will be an ongoing battle. Adriana Melo, the Brazilian doctor who raised alarm bells in the early days of the outbreak about a link between Zika and birth defects, said the lifting of the emergency was expected after the decline in cases.

“The important thing now is that we don’t forget the victims.”

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