UN urges birth control over Zika

(Associated Press) - February 5, 2016 - 9:00am

LONDON – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says laws and policies that restrict access to birth control services must be repealed amid the explosive outbreak of the Zika virus in the Americas, which has been linked to an increase in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads.

In a statement issued yesterday, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant “ignores the reality” that many women have little control over the circumstances in which that happens.

To date, the mosquito-borne virus has spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas, including some where sexual violence is rampant, Al Hussein said.

He called for laws restricting access to sexual and reproductive health services to be urgently reviewed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday advised countries against accepting blood donations from people who have traveled to regions affected by the Zika virus, as Spain announced Europe’s first known case of the disease in a pregnant woman.

With dozens of cases emerging in Europe and North America from travelers returning from affected areas, WHO stressed the potential link between Zika and microcephaly – which causes children to be born with abnormally small heads – and urged health authorities to take precautions.

“With the risk of incidence of new infections of Zika virus in many countries, and the potential linkage of the Zika virus infection with microcephaly and other clinical consequence, it is estimated as an appropriate precautionary measures to defer (blood) donors who return from areas with Zika virus outbreak,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told AFP.

In Brazil, health officials said on Thursday they have confirmed two cases of transmission of Zika through transfusions of blood from donors who had been infected with the mosquito-borne virus that is spreading rapidly through the Americas.

Marcelo Addas Carvalho, director of the Blood Center at the Sao Paulo state University of Campinas, said genetic testing confirmed that a man who received a blood transfusion using blood from a donor with Zika in March 2015 became infected with the virus, although the patient did not develop symptoms.          

Earlier, the health department of Campinas, an industrial city near Sao Paulo, said a man with gunshot wounds became infected with Zika after multiple blood transfusions in April 2015 that included blood donated by an infected person.

Carvalho said the infection of the wounded man was most probably caused by the transfusion but genetic tests have not yet been conducted to confirm it. He said it was very unlikely the infection was caused by a mosquito bite because the patient was in a hospital intensive care unit for three months.

The patient later died from his gunshot wounds and not the Zika infection, local health officials and Carvalho said.      

“The two cases can be considered transmission of the virus through blood transfusion, with greater certainty in the first because we did genetic sequencing comparing the virus in the donor and to the virus in the recipient,” he said by telephone.

Zika is usually contracted via mosquito bites, so transmission of the illness through blood transfusions adds another concern to efforts to contain the outbreak. Some countries have tightened procedures for blood donations, to protect blood supplies.  Meanwhile, in the first case of its kind in Europe, Spain’s health ministry said a pregnant woman who had returned from Colombia had been diagnosed with the virus.

“One of the patients diagnosed in (the northeastern region of) Catalonia is a pregnant woman, who showed symptoms after having traveled to Colombia,” the ministry announced, adding that she was one of seven cases in Spain.

The 41-year-old woman, of Latin American origin who lives in Spain, is 13 or 14 weeks pregnant, regional health official Joan Guix told a news conference.

She will undergo detailed medical tests to see if there is a risk to the fetus. Guix said there was only a small possibility of problems and a scan at 15 weeks would show whether the baby was developing normally.       

The mosquito-borne virus has so far spread to 26 countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean and health authorities have warned it could infect up to four million people on the continent and spread worldwide.

The disease starts with a mosquito bite and normally causes little more than a fever and rash.

But since October, Brazil has reported 404 confirmed cases of microcephaly – up from 147 in 2014 – plus 3,670 suspected cases.

The timing has fueled strong suspicions that Zika is causing the birth defect.

The virus has also been linked to a potentially paralyzing nerve disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome in some patients.  

‘Imported cases’     

Spains health ministry sought to ease concerns over the spread of the virus, pointing out that all seven cases in the country had caught the disease


“Up to now, the diagnosed cases of Zika virus in Spain... don’t risk spreading the virus in our country as they are imported cases,” it said.

The news comes a day after South American health ministers held an emergency meeting in Uruguay on the disease.

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