The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that “early, fast and accurate detection” is crucial to managing outbreaks of the Zika virus which has been associated with serious birth defects and neurological disorders in adults.
The training, which will include more than 36 participants from 26 countries, will be held at the IAEA laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria. The participants are from laboratories affiliated with national health authorities, and will be expected to share their knowledge at home.
They will learn how to use the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) technique, and to apply the procedures recommended by the UN World Health Organization(WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the detection of Zika.
“The virus is currently circulating in 38 countries and territories,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan. “On present knowledge, no one can predict whether the virus will spread to other parts of the world and cause a similar pattern of fetal malformations and neurological disorders. If this pattern is confirmed beyond Latin America and the Caribbean, the world will face a severe public health crisis.”
According to WHO, the world was alerted to the first appearance of Zika in the Western Hemisphere on May 7 2015, when Brazil confirmed that a “mysterious outbreak” of thousands of cases of mild disease with rash was caused by the Zika virus. In July, the country then reported an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), followed by an unusual increase in microcephaly among newborns in late October.
“The possibility that a mosquito bite could be linked to severe fetal malformations alarmed the public and astonished scientists,” Dr. Chan said. “The association with Guillain-Barré syndrome and other severe disorders of the central nervous system has expanded the risk group well beyond women of childbearing age. We now know that sexual transmission of the virus occurs.”
She detailed how a pattern has emerged in which initial detection of virus circulation is followed, within about three weeks, by an unusual increase in cases of GBS. Detection of microcephaly and other fetal malformations comes later, as pregnancies of infected women come to term.
In the current outbreak, Brazil and Panama have reported microcephaly. Colombia is investigating several cases of microcephaly for a possible link to Zika. In other countries and territories, the virus has not been circulating long enough for pregnancies to come to term. A WHO team is currently in Cabo Verde to investigate the country’s first reported case of microcephaly.
“To date, 12 countries and territories have now reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome or laboratory confirmation of Zika infection among GBS cases. Additional effects on the central nervous system have been documented, notably inflammation of the spinal cord and inflammation of the brain and its membranes,” Dr. Chan added.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that the threat to the United States may be much greater than originally thought. A wider range of birth defects have now been linked to the virus and the mosquitoes that carry the virus are able to travel to a larger number of US states than previously thought.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus. In the meantime, it has been using money totaling $589 million left over from the Ebola virus fund.
In March, IAEA launched a four-year regional project worth Euro 2.3 million to help countries apply the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) as part of integrated vector control measures. SIT is a form of pest control that uses ionizing radiation to sterilize male mosquitoes in special rearing facilities, which are then released over target areas, effectively suppressing the insect population over time to protect humans from disease transmission.
The international community came together to fight Ebola, and it can do the same for Zika, but-–as with Ebola-–rapid and coordinated response is vital.