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The Microbes Have Won Again

Author: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health
November 21, 2016
Scientific American


Last Friday, November 18, the World Health Organization decided to take the Zika virus off of Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) status on the grounds that, as the agency’s Peter Salama told the press, “Zika is here to stay, and the WHO’s response is here to stay.”

So Zika may now be added to the pantheon of viruses and bacteria that have recently emerged from obscurity to become permanent threats to human health. Welcome to the club, Zika—meet your peers, HIV, XDR-TB, Ebola, Marburg and a long list of other killers.

The WHO decision to downgrade Zika from emergency status is not good news, as there are now seventy-five countries that have suffered the virus since 2007, the majority of them only experiencing Zika over the last eighteen months. Among them, twenty-eight have had cases of microcephaly, the severe brain damage and deformation caused by viral infection of the fetus. And nineteen countries have had cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a form of temporary, sometimes permanent paralysis seen in infected adults. At least a dozen countries, including the United States, have documented cases of sexual transmission of the virus, and both Puerto Rico and Brazil report that female cases are roughly double the number confirmed in males among adults between fifteen and forty years of age. The virus directly attacks brain cells, in both fetuses and adults.

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