Since mid-2015, Brazil has reported over 4,100 cases of the birth defect microcephaly in babies – a drastic increase from previous years where the average number of cases per year is less than 200. The rise in microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with a shrunken head and brain, is linked initially to pregnant mothers infected with the Zika virus, transmitted through mosquitos. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently identified 22 countries in the Americas with active transmissions of the virus, and advised pregnant women (and others) to avoid traveling to those countries.
On February 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared public health emergency of international concerns, only the fourth time that WHO has invoked this emergency status since 2007. In consultation with her emergency committee, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said this would allow WHO and member states to step up efforts to better understand the potential link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, as well as other conditions.
The Network’s Primer outlines public health concerns related to the Zika virus, and lays out current and anticipated legal preparedness and response issues internationally and in the United States, including travel restrictions, testing and screening, and research and treatment. This Primer will be updated as events develop, so check this page regularly for new information.