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UN calls for better birth control access to avoid Zika defects

The UN has urged Zika-stricken countries to give women better access to birth control and abortions to slow the virus' spread. The WHO called for $25 million to fight the virus amid fears 4 million could become infected. Amid growing concern about the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to babies born with abnormally small heads, the UN Human Rights office called on Latin and South American countries to stop restricting access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. The Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights said it is worried pregnant women aren't able to access accurate information and medical options after contracting the virus, which is spread through mosquito bites and possibly through sex. "We are asking those governments to go back and change those laws," said UN OHCRH spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly, "because how can they ask those women to become pregnant but not offer them information that is available and the possibility to stop their pregnancies if they wish?" Pouilly said in a region where sexual violence is rampant, women must have the option of safe and legal abortion services. In most of South America, abortion is either illegal or restricted to cases of rape, where the mother's life is threatened or when there are other severe health issues. Outbreak spreading Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus to be global emergency after it spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas. WHO officials said on Friday they would seek $25 million for a six-month program to fight the virus amid fears of up to 4 million cases. Although Zika normally causes no or only mild symptoms, the link to birth defects has strengthened the case for coordinated international action. On Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suspected link between Zika and a birth defect known as microcephaly appears "stronger and stronger." As well as abnormally small heads, babies with microcephaly are born with an underdeveloped brain. Condoms advised Separately, US health officials warned men who traveled to areas most affected by the virus to use condoms if they have sex with a pregnant woman. The guidance suggested abstinence as an alternative protection measure. Paulo Gadelha, president of the Fiocruz Research Institute, said at a news conference that scientists have found live samples of the virus in saliva and urine samples, but called for further study and said it was not clear which bodily fluids could transmit the virus. He said pregnant women should avoid kissing people other than a regular partner or sharing cutlery, glasses and plates with people who have symptoms of the virus. The advice comes as Brazil's Carnival season got underway on Friday. The celebrations include massive street parties where it is common for people to kiss strangers. Also on Friday, Germany said it had 15 known cases of the Zika virus, a spokesman for the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine told the dpa news agency.

The UN has urged Zika-stricken countries to give women better access to birth control and abortions to slow the virus’ spread. The WHO called for $25 million to fight the virus amid fears 4 million could become infected. Amid growing concern about the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to babies born with abnormally small heads, the UN ... Read More »

US reports Zika infection through sex

Health officials in Texas have reported a case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sexual contact, and not a mosquito bite. The infected person is said to have acquired it from someone who traveled to Venezuela. Local health officials in Dallas on Tuesday reported a case of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted, heightening fears of the spread of the mosquito-born virus. It comes a day after the World Health Organization declared Zika an international public health emergency. "The patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus was present," a statement from Dallas County Health and Human Services said. It later said on Twitter the country was Venezuela. The county said it had received confirmation of the case from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A CDC spokesman confirmed the results for a Zika infection but said local officials investigated the mode of transmission. Authorities said there were no reports of the virus being locally transmitted by mosquitoes. Sexual transmission not proven Only one possible person-to-person case of sexual transmission has been reported internationally. But health officials have said more evidence is needed to confirm whether Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact. The WHO has said the virusis spreading rapidly in the Americas and could infect 4 million people. A global response unit has been launched to fight the virus. Caution urged for women The virus has been linked to microcephaly, in which babies have abnormally small heads and improperly developed brains. Researchers believe that if a pregnant woman is bitten by an infected mosquito, particularly in the first trimester, she faces a higher risk of having a child with birth defects. The virus has now spread to 26 countries and territories including Brazil, which is the country hardest hit, with 3,700 suspected cases of microcephaly that may be linked to Zika. Brazilian authorities have vowed to proceed with the 2016 Olympics despite the health scare. Ireland reports first cases The first Irish cases of the virus were detected in two people with a history of traveling to an affected country, the country's Health Service Executive said on Tuesday. The two individuals are unrelated and neither is at risk due to pregnancy. They've been described as currently well and fully recovered. Meanwhile, Nicaragua confirmed its first two cases in pregnant women on Tuesday and Chile reported its first case of the virus. The race is on to find a vaccine to prevent the virus taking hold. There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika, which is in the same family of viruses as dengue fever. However, Germany has developed the first test for Zika.

Health officials in Texas have reported a case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sexual contact, and not a mosquito bite. The infected person is said to have acquired it from someone who traveled to Venezuela. Local health officials in Dallas on Tuesday reported a case of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted, heightening fears of the spread of ... Read More »

Olympics to go ahead, says Zika-hit Brazil, but urges pregnant women to stay away

Brasilia has warned pregnant women not to take the risk of traveling to the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. Both Brazil and the IOC have welcomed a move by the WHO to declare a health emergency over the Zika virus. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) welcomed measures taken to stop the spread of the Zika virus on Monday, the Brazilian government issued a warning for pregnant women to stay away from the summer games in Rio de Janeiro. President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, issued the unprecedented warning that " the risk, which I would say is serious, is for pregnant women. It is clearly not advisable for you (to travel to the Olympics) because you don't want to take that risk." The mosquito-borne illness, which has no medical cure and usually leaves an adult patient after a period of rest, is suspected of causing thousands of cases of the developmental disorder microcephaly in children whose mothers contract the virus while pregnant. "If you're an adult, a man or a woman who isn't pregnant, you develop antibodies in about five days and (the disease) passes," Wagner clarified. Wagner also applauded the decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global health emergency , calling it a "positive" move that "alerts the whole world." IOC: Less mosquitoes in winter IOC President Thomas Bach also hailed the call by WHO, saying that he believed enough was being done to tackle the extent of the virus so that athletes should not worry about traveling to participate in Rio 2016. "We welcome this decision by the World Health Organization because it helps raise even more awareness and to provide even more resources to fight the virus," Bach told the press. "We are in the close contact with the WHO and we see also that so far there is no travel ban being pronounced by the WHO," he continued, adding that the Olympics will take place during winter in Brazil, a time when mosquitoes prefer not to breed. The Games, which run from August 5 to 21, will take place during a "dryer, cooler climate significantly reduces the presence of mosquitoes". Zika, originally detected in Africa in the 1940s, was not considered a global threat until last year's unusual outbreak in Latin America. Brazil has become the worst affected country, with some 4,000 suspected cases of related birth defects.

Brasilia has warned pregnant women not to take the risk of traveling to the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. Both Brazil and the IOC have welcomed a move by the WHO to declare a health emergency over the Zika virus. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) welcomed measures taken to stop the spread of the Zika virus on Monday, the ... Read More »

Zika cases in pregnant women double in Colombia

Health officials say the number of pregnant women with the Zika virus has doubled in a week. The virus has been linked to babies being born with smaller than normal brains and is spreading through the Americas. Health officials in Colombia announced Saturday that more than 2,000 pregnant women have now been infected with the mosquito-born Zika virus, making Colombia the second hardest-hit country after Brazil, the epicenter of the outbreak. The virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect which prevents fetus' brains from developing properly. The disease has no known cure and is said to be untreatable, and can cause permanent damage to a child's motor and cognitive development. The virus is said to be carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The national health institute said in an epidemiology bulletin that there are 20,927 confirmed cases of the disease in Colombia, with 2,116 pregnant women among them. There are so far no reports of death from the disease in the country. The announcement comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that the virus is "spreading explosively" across the Americas, predicting three to four million cases this year. The WHO is due to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to address the spread of the disease. Preparing for the worst Meanwhile, Colombian authorities have ordered hospitals to prepare, as the government expects more than 600,000 people to become infected with the virus. In addition, authorities in the country have asked women to delay conceiving by six to seven months to avoid potential infection. The health ministry has allowed abortions, as the deformity of the fetus meets health requirements. Many women, especially those living far away from large cities, find it difficult to find legal abortion providers. Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Puerto Rica have also warned women to delay conceiving. Brazil, the hardest hit country, has reported 3,700 cases of microcephaly so far. In August the country is due to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The International Olympic Committee assured teams the Olympics would be safe from the virus, but urged visitors to protect themselves.

Health officials say the number of pregnant women with the Zika virus has doubled in a week. The virus has been linked to babies being born with smaller than normal brains and is spreading through the Americas. Health officials in Colombia announced Saturday that more than 2,000 pregnant women have now been infected with the mosquito-born Zika virus, making Colombia ... Read More »

Two US residents test positive for Zika virus

Two US residents, both of whom recently traveled abroad, have tested positive for the tropical-borne Zika virus. The virus is causing alarm in a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Officials in Virginia and Arkansas confirmed the test results on Tuesday. In both cases officials declined to identify exactly where they may have contracted the disease. However, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr Marissa Levine said the Virginia resident traveled to a country where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing. She added the person posed no risk to others, as it is not mosquito season in Virginia. "Zika virus is acquired through the bite of an infected mosquito," Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine said in a statement. Zika is generally considered a milder form of other mosquito borne illnesses such as dengue fever. But Brazil, has seen a spike in Zika cases at the same time it has seen dramatic rise in new born babies suffering a rare birth defect. Not scientifically proven It has yet to be scientifically proven but the suspicion is that pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are giving birth to babies afflicted with microcephaly - that is, babies with unusually small heads who may suffer brain damage as a result. The virus has surged in Brazil, where officials have simultaneously seen an increase in birth defects. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out a list of Latin American and Carribean countries with confirmed cases of Zika, and recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel there. The 22 countries affected are, in Latin America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela. In the Caribbean: Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin and Puerto Rico. Also, Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa; and Samoa in the South Pacific. Passenger refunds Two US airlines - United and American - are offering refunds to some or all passengers with reservations to any of the countries on the CDC list . President Barack Obama met with his senior health advisers on Tuesday, and urged them to accelerate research into diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapeutic drugs, and work to inform Americans about the Zika virus and ways to protect against infection. But it will likely take years to come up with an effective vaccine. "This is not going to be overnight," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. The World Health Organization predicts the virus will spread to all countries across the Americas except for Canada and Chile.

Two US residents, both of whom recently traveled abroad, have tested positive for the tropical-borne Zika virus. The virus is causing alarm in a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Officials in Virginia and Arkansas confirmed the test results on Tuesday. In both cases officials declined to identify exactly where they may have contracted the disease. However, Virginia Health ... Read More »

Brazil steps up fight against Zika virus ahead of Olympics

Brazil has promised to protect athletes and visitors from disease-carrying mosquitoes ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Fear has spread after the disease was linked to birth defects in the region. Authorities in Rio de Janeiro said Monday that the city would step up inspections and ramp up security measures as the Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitoes, continued its spread in the Americas. More than 3,000 health inspectors in Rio de Janeiro will target known breeding grounds for the insects in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease as the city prepares to host the Summer Olympics in August. Officials said inspectors will also begin spraying insecticide around the Sambadrome, the outdoor area where the annual Carnival celebrations are due to take place early next month. "The mayor's office will be intensifying inspections," City Hall said in a statement. "About a month before the opening of the Games a team will visit all competition sites to eliminate possible concentrations." Spreading through the Americas The Zika virus has raised concerns over the past week as new cases were reported in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, the virus is likely to spread throughout the Americas - only Chile and Canada would be spared. The virus, which is not spread from person to person, causes flu-like symptoms that usually clear up within a week. But in pregnant women the virus can lead to serious birth defects including microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. Brazil has seen a spike in such cases over the past several months. The country's health minister said last week that the particular mosquito responsible for spreading the disease has become more widespread.

Brazil has promised to protect athletes and visitors from disease-carrying mosquitoes ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Fear has spread after the disease was linked to birth defects in the region. Authorities in Rio de Janeiro said Monday that the city would step up inspections and ramp up security measures as the Zika virus, which is carried ... Read More »

Zika virus reaches New York

A virus likely to have caused thousands of birth defects in Brazil has been found in three individuals in New York. Pregnant women traveling abroad have been warned to exercise particular caution. The New York State Department of Health announced on its website late Friday that three people in the state had tested positive for the Zika virus . The virus, well known in Latin American and Caribbean countries, is known to cause birth defects such as microcephaly if pregnant women become infected. The Zika virus is often transmitted by mosquitoes, and has been likened to a milder form of dengue fever. No medicine or vaccine exists against the virus, which causes symptoms like rash, fever, pink eye and joint pain, and so the only cure is rest. Health officials in New York said the three patients had recently returned from countries were the virus is prevalent, and that one had already recovered. "…This is a time of year when people travel to warmer climates and countries where Zika virus is found, we are urging residents, especially pregnant women, to check all health advisories before traveling and take preventive measures when traveling to affected countries," said state health commissioner Howard Zucker. Under normal circumstances, Zika is not a particularly common virus, but health authorities have had cause to worry over an extended outbreak in Brazil that began last year. Since October, some 3,500 babies in the South American nation have been diagnosed with microcephaly, a debilitating condition which causes their heads to be smaller than normal and can lead to disruptions of motor skills, speech ability, and mobility.

A virus likely to have caused thousands of birth defects in Brazil has been found in three individuals in New York. Pregnant women traveling abroad have been warned to exercise particular caution. The New York State Department of Health announced on its website late Friday that three people in the state had tested positive for the Zika virus . The ... Read More »

WHO declares Guinea free of Ebola virus

Guinea will remain under a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly. The virus killed more than 2,500 people in the West-African country. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Guinea to be free of Ebola, two years after the outbreak started in the country and eventually spread to other West African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. Forty-two days have passed since the last person confirmed to have Ebola virus disease tested negative for the second time, the UN agency said in a statement on Tuesday. Guinea would remain under a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly so that the virus can be prevented from spreading further. The announcement comes as a huge relief for Guinea, one of the poorest countries in world. The West-African country shot to global prominence as the home to the outbreak's first victim - a two-year old boy. The virus then spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone - and, in isolated or sporadic cases, to another seven countries. "This is the first time that all three countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - have stopped the original chains of transmission that were responsible for starting this devastating outbreak two years ago," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. Because of Ebola's unusually long incubation period, with the time from infection to visible symptoms sometimes lasting weeks, declaring an end to the virus has proven problematic. Liberia is now the only country still awaiting a declared end to the epidemic - although it has reached the WHO's 42-day watermark before, only to register new cases. Without any further positive Ebola tests, Liberia would be declared clear again on January 14, 2016. The virus claimed more than 11,000 lives, from the nearly 29,000 recorded cases, according to WHO figures from December 20. More than 2,500 people died in Guinea alone. 'Best year-end present' "It's the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for," Alama Kambou Dore, an Ebola survivor, told the AFP news agency. "From 2013 to 2015, Guineans suffered, they lived and survived, they endured, they were stigmatized, rejected, even humiliated because of this disease, which leapt out of nowhere." The WHO said there had been 10 new small Ebola outbreaks or flares in the region between March and November this year but they appeared to have been due to the re-emergence of a persistent virus from among the survivors. The Ebola virus may persist in the semen of some male survivors for as long as 9-12 months. "The coming months will be absolutely critical," said Dr Bruce Aylward, the WHO's special representative for the Ebola response. "This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases." Aylward added that the persistence of the virus in survivors may give rise to new Ebola cases in 2016.

Guinea will remain under a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly. The virus killed more than 2,500 people in the West-African country. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Guinea to be free of Ebola, two years after the outbreak started in the country and eventually spread to other West African countries ... Read More »

New cases of Ebola found in Liberia, health authorities say

Officials have reported that three new cases of Ebola were found not far from the capital of Monrovia. The discovery comes not long after the country was declared free of the disease by the World Health Organization. Health officials reported on Friday that three new cases of Ebola were found in Liberia. The diagnoses are a setback for the region as it struggles to end the epidemic. The first case was discovered in a 10-year-old boy living on the outskirts of the nation's capital Monrovia. Two of his close relatives have also since tested positive, said Heath Minister Bernice Dahn. "The hospital is currently decontaminating the unit. All of the healthcare workers who came into contact with the patient have been notified," she said at a news conference. All six of the boy's family members, along with others who had high-risk contact are being cared for at an Ebola treatment unit in Paynesville. "We know how Ebola spreads and we know how to stop Ebola but we must remain vigilant and work together," Dahn said. "The fight against Ebola is not over, but we can't lose hope." Authorities are not sure how the boy contracted the disease since he had no history of contact with an Ebola victim or survivor and none of the family members had left the Monrovia area. Liberia was originally declared Ebola-free back in May, only to see a resurgence of the disease that left two people dead. The World Health Organization (WHO) then once again declared the country free of the disease on September 3. Ongoing epidemic The outbreak, which started in December 2013, killed roughly 11,300 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, but was thought to have been beaten for the most part. Sierra Leone has since been declared Ebola-free, while Guinea has begun the 42-day countdown necessary to declare itself also free of the disease. Liberia has registered more than 10,600 cases and 4,808 deaths since the beginning of the Ebola epidemic.

Officials have reported that three new cases of Ebola were found not far from the capital of Monrovia. The discovery comes not long after the country was declared free of the disease by the World Health Organization. Health officials reported on Friday that three new cases of Ebola were found in Liberia. The diagnoses are a setback for the region ... Read More »

British Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey now ‘critically ill’

A British nurse who was successfully treated in January after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone is now "critically ill" due to a resurgence of the virus. Pauline Cafferkey has been receiving treatment in London. It is thought that Cafferkey, 39, could be only the second recorded case of "reactivated" Ebola after American doctor Ian Crozier. Cafferkey was first diagnosed with Ebola in December after returning to the Scottish city of Glasgow from Sierra Leone. "We are sad to announce that Pauline Cafferkey's condition has deteriorated and she is now critically ill. Pauline is being treated for Ebola in the high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free," the London hospital said in a statement. Just two weeks ago, Cafferkey was at Downing Street meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron's wife Samantha, where she received an award for bravery. She reportedly visited a primary school the day before being readmitted to hospital on October 6. Serious relapse Cafferkey spent almost a month in the isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital at the beginning of the year and was treated with an experimental anti-viral drug and blood from Ebola survivors before being discharged. Last week, she fell ill again and was treated in Glasgow before being flown by military aircraft back to the Royal Free Hospital in London. Her sister Toni said that doctors in Glasgow had diagnosed her with a virus on Monday but sent her back home. She called the treatment her sister received "absolutely diabolical" but local health officials have insisted that the decisions taken were "entirely appropriate." Health officials have been monitoring 58 people who have been in close contact with Cafferkey. Forty have had direct contact with her bodily fluids - the main mode of Ebola transmission. Of the 40, 25 are receiving a vaccine and a further 15 have either declined it or were unable to receive it due to existing medical conditions. The deadliest-ever Ebola outbreak since the virus was identified in Central Africa in 1976 has killed over 11,000 people and infected more than 28,000, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

A British nurse who was successfully treated in January after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone is now “critically ill” due to a resurgence of the virus. Pauline Cafferkey has been receiving treatment in London. It is thought that Cafferkey, 39, could be only the second recorded case of “reactivated” Ebola after American doctor Ian Crozier. Cafferkey was first diagnosed with ... Read More »

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