Bogotá, February 23, 2016 (PAHO / WHO) -- A group of experts convened by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) is working in Colombia this week to support the country's efforts to respond to the outbreak of Zika virus. Colombian health authorities report that nearly 37,000 people have been affected, including 6,300 pregnant women.
Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is a new virus in the Americas. Since Brazil reported the first cases of local transmission in May 2015, the virus has spread to 29 countries and territories in the Americas, a situation that is compounded by the possible association with GBS cases and microcephaly.
Colombia's Vice Minister of Health, Fernando Ruiz, said, "We have a plan of action that began long before the arrival of cases of Zika in Colombia. We also work with our central laboratory; we issue guidelines for handling, treatment and prevention, in addition to developing contingency plans and risk communication activities." To develop strategies with municipalities, authorities tour the country to coordinate actions with the departments and localities under the initiative "La vuelta a Colombia," or "Around Colombia."
PAHO has developed a strategy to help countries mitigate the impact of Zika virus, through strengthening their capabilities to detect the introduction and spread of the virus, reducing mosquito populations, ensuring the necessary health services, and communicating effectively with the public about risks and prevention measures.
Aedes mosquitoes, the main vector transmitting zika, are present in every country in the region except Canada and continental Chile. To prevent or slow the spread of Zika virus, as well as dengue and chikungunya, which are also transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, PAHO recommends the following:
Mosquito populations should be reduced and controlled by eliminating breeding sites. Containers that can hold even small amounts of water where mosquitoes can breed, such as buckets, bottle tops, flower pots or tires, should be emptied, cleaned or covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them. This will help to control. Other measures include using larvicide to treat standing waters.
All people living in or visiting areas with Aedes mosquitoes should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-colored) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets, especially during the day when Aedes mosquitoes are most active.
Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid mosquito bites. Although Zika typically causes only mild symptoms, outbreaks in Brazil have coincided with a marked increase in microcephaly—or unusually small head size—in newborns. Women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating should consult a healthcare provider before traveling and upon return. Women who believe they have been exposed to Zika virus should consult with their healthcare provider for close monitoring of their pregnancy.