In May, the World Health Organization told a meeting in Geneva that the Asian strain that has been causing havoc in the Americas had been detected in Africa’s Cape Verde.
Although, Africa is home to the country where Zika virus was first detected, the strain that was discovered in Cape Verde is different from that found in Uganda’s Zika forest, in 1962. More than 200 cases were confirmed in the country, sparking fears that this would be the gateway to a rapid spread of the virus in the continent.
Just a month down the line, and a new medical research indicates that Guinea-Bissau in Africa appears to be the 62nd country to report mosquito-borne Zika transmission. Following the new detection of three virus cases in the country, the UN health agency, and the national authority is investigating whether the virus in the country is the same strain as the one behind outbreaks linked to microcephaly, head and brain abnormalities in Brazil and elsewhere.
Out of the twelve samples screened, three samples sent to a reference laboratory in Senegal showed Zika but did not determine any link to the virus' recent outbreak in the Americas and the western Pacific, World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.
In a statement, the ministry of health confirmed the virus in the country: “The Health Minister has informed (the government) of three confirmed cases of Zika virus contamination located in the Bijagos Archipelago.” The government statement sent to reporters did not state the origin of the three cases but said it was establishing a committee headed by Prime Minister Baciro Dja, that will enforce a series of measures aimed at containing the virus.
This confirmation increases the chances of its swift spread across the region. Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in health protection at the University of East Anglia, is concerned over the spread of the virus in the continent. He said: “Once it has got a toe-hold in Africa, it is likely to spread pretty dramatically.”
Cape Verde, a group of islands off Africa's Atlantic coast and a former Portuguese colony like Guinea Bissau and Brazil, is located approximately 370 miles off West Africa’s Atlantic coast. This in its self is a geographical buffer for the region to avert the Zika virus. Bijagos Archipelago, however, is only a boat ride away from the mainland, creating serious fears of an epidemic in the continent.
In the past, the WHO warned that any country where the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is prevalent could be at risk for Zika spread.
The agency has been in touch with Guinea-Bissau's government to further investigate the Zika menace which could paralyze Africa’s development plans if it were to spread fast in a continent that is struggling with poverty, hunger and other diseases including yellow fever.
Africans were previously thought to have developed resistance against the previous strain discovered in Uganda, but with the recent development, it is unclear if the current strain will affect Africans as it has people in the Americas.
While the virus is slowly spreading in the world, athletes and spectators from across the globe are preparing for the Olympic Games in Rio. The UN health agency has said that the Olympic Games should go on as planned and that “no general restrictions on travel and trade with countries, areas and/or territories” with Zika transmission.
“The risks are no different for people going to the Olympics than for other areas where there are outbreaks of Zika,” David Heymann, chair of the WHO’s expert panel, told reporters at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva last month.
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