Tuesday February 2, 2016
WHO Declares Zika Virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)
As previously advised, Zika virus is an arboviral disease spread by certain mosquito species but mosquito species in New Zealand will not spread the Zika virus. It cannot be passed on from person to person. The general public are not at risk of catching Zika virus from travellers.
On 2 February 2016, the Director-General of the World Health Organization convened an Emergency Committee, under the International Health Regulations, to gather advice on the severity of the health threat associated with the continuing spread of Zika virus disease in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In assessing the level of threat, the 18 experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association, in time and place, between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications. The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better. The experts also considered patterns of recent spread and the broad geographical distribution of mosquito species that can transmit the virus. The lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries were cited as further causes for concern.
The Director-General has declared that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy. However, the Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus. At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.
As you know, New Zealand has strong biosecurity and border health systems. Biosecurity and border health measures currently include:
- mosquito surveillance and monitoring programmes in place at international ports and airports
- responses to suspected interceptions of exotic mosquitoes
- disinsection of aircraft (MPI lead)
- inspection of vessels (including yachts) and risk goods for mosquitoes and mosquito habitat (MPI lead)
- implementation of Import Health Standards requiring treatment of risk goods to exclude mosquitoes (MPI lead)
- updated advice for travellers to affected areas on MFAT's Safe Travel website and the Ministry of Health website
- signage and wallet cards at international airports advising returning travellers to phone healthline and/or seek medical attention if they become unwell
- requests to Air NZ and Qantas to link their websites to the Safe Travel and Ministry of Health websites
- request to shipping agents to ask their Masters to maintain vigilence and exclude potential mosquito habitat
- request for all border agencies, airport/port authorities, and port/airport staff to report any suspected exotic mosquitoes.
Ministry of Health officials will continue to monitor international developments. At this time there are no additional measures required at the border. There are no additional restrictions on travel or trade.
Update to MOH webpage regarding Zika virus
Zika virus infection is a mild febrile viral illness transmitted by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that are able to transmit Zika virus are not normally found in New Zealand, therefore Zika should only be considered in people who have recently travelled overseas.
Note – the following information on Zika virus infection is provided as it is an emerging disease. As such no particular guidance has previously been available in New Zealand.
Information categories regarding zika virus on the Ministry of Health's website are as follows:
- About Zika virus
- Zika virus and pregnancy
- Symptoms of Zika virus infection
- Further information
- Laboratory testing