World Health Organization (WHO): Zika Virus is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)
The first meeting of the Emergency Committee (EC) convened by the Director-General under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR 2005) regarding clusters of microcephaly cases and other neurologic disorders in some areas affected by Zika virus was held by teleconference on 1 February 2016, from 13:10 to 16:55 Central European Time.
The WHO Secretariat briefed the Committee on the clusters of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) that have been temporally associated with Zika virus transmission in some settings. The Committee was provided with additional data on the current understanding of the history of Zika virus, its spread, clinical presentation and epidemiology.
The following States Parties provided information on a potential association between microcephaly and/or neurological disorders and Zika virus disease: Brazil, France, United States of America, and El Salvador.
The Committee advised that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurologic disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Based on this information, the WHO Director-General declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on 1 February 2016.
Sandflies & Civil War
The Syrian civil war has set the stage for the reemergence of a rare infectious disease. Transmitted through the bite of the sandfly, Leishmaniasis is a parasite that can affect many different parts of the body. The most prevalent form in the Middle East is called Cutaneous Leishmaniasis, which causes disfiguring welts and scarring of the skin. A more lethal variant known as Visceral Leishmaniasis can also damage the spleen and liver.
Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the number of Leishmaniasis cases has skyrocketed from 3,000 to over 100,000. Water shortages and poor sanitation have combined to create conditions ripe for the transmission of the disease. To make matters worse, the pentavalent antimonial drugs used to treat Leishmaniasis are becoming increasingly scarce. In times of conflict, Public Health tools such as surveillance, multi-sector response, and international collaboration rapidly diminish states Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Severe Pandemic in West Africa
A deadly pandemic has been brewing in western Africa since December 2013. This latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) began in the Republic of Guinea and then spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. To date, 344 suspected and confirmed cases of EVD have been reported in Guinea, 112 in Sierra Leone, and 13 in Libera. Since emerging in 1976 in Sudan and Congo, EVD outbreaks have occurred 33 times.
On May 15, 2014, The New York Times reported about a program implemented in New Orleans which mined patient personal health information to identify which parents to warn prior to an impending ice storm. Dialysis patients were advised to get their treatments early, and those on ventilators were called so they knew how to get help if the power went out. New Orleans city officials knew whom to contact based on submitted Medicare claim requests. This data is now available for public emergency response and preparedness through the Federal Privacy Act of 1974.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a novel Coronavirus in the same family as the Coronavirus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has caused 339 illnesses and 102 deaths in Saudi Arabia . However, the WHO has only reported 262 laboratory-confirmed cases. Six Middle Eastern countries have reported MERS (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait) and 5 other countries have reported traveler-associated MERS cases (United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia). On May 2nd, the United States became the 6th county to report a traveler-associated MERS case. According to the CDC, an American healthcare worker flew back to the US from Saudi Arabia on April 24th, connecting in London and Chicago before taking a bus to Indiana. He is currently hospitalized and in stable condition. US Public Health officials are tracing the US MERS patient’s travel itinerary and attempting to contact other travelers who may have been in close contact with the affected individual. Currently, the US government has not issued any warnings to travelers to avoid the affected countries or to change travel plans.