World Health Organization Declares Zika a Health Emergency

The emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization to study outbreaks of microcephaly and other disorders in areas affected by Zika declared the virus a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern," but did not recommend travel restrictions to areas affected by the virus, which includes the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The declaration means there will be more resources made available to the territory to combat the spread of the virus.

In a news release issued Monday, the V.I. Department of Health reported that acting Commissioner Juan Figueroa–Serville and Dr. Michelle Davis, the regional administrator of the federal Department of Health and Human Services have fully initiated task force efforts in the wake of the WHO committee’s first meeting.

As a precautionary measure, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the following recommendations:

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Travel measures

– There should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission.

– Travelers to areas with Zika virus transmission should be provided with up to date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites.

– Standard WHO recommendations regarding disinfection of aircraft and airports should be implemented.

Zika virus transmission

– Surveillance for Zika virus infection should be enhanced, with the dissemination of standard case definitions and diagnostics to at-risk areas.

– The development of new diagnostics for Zika virus infection should be prioritized to facilitate surveillance and control measures.

– Risk communications should be enhanced in countries with Zika virus transmission to address population concerns, enhance community engagement, improve reporting, and ensure application of vector control and personal protective measures.

– Vector control measures and appropriate personal protective measures should be aggressively promoted and implemented to reduce the risk of exposure to Zika virus.

– Attention should be given to ensuring women of childbearing age and particularly pregnant women have the necessary information and materials to reduce risk of exposure.

– Pregnant women who have been exposed to Zika virus should be counseled and followed for birth outcomes based on the best available information and national practice and policies.

“This declaration by the WHO will afford the territory additional resources," Davis said. "These resources include, but are not limited to staffing, supplies additional testing and educational assistance.”

Acting Commissioner Serville said the department is already at work on the virus.

“We at the Department of Health are ready, willing and able to serve the people of the Virgin Islands. We will be going door to door in the affected areas, providing mosquito larvacide, information and assistance in the wake of this virus. I am asking all Virgin Islanders to take precautionary measures to protect yourselves and your families and in the event that you experience any symptoms, please see your physician immediately,” he said. 

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