South Africa confirmed its first case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in a Columbian man, health authorities said. The virus, which is causing international alarm after spreading through much of the Americas, was detected in the man on his visit to Johannesburg, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.
“The businessman presented with fever and a rash approximately four days after arrival in South Africa but is now fully recovered,” he said. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global public health emergency on Feb. 1, noting its association with two neurological disorders – microcephaly in babies and Guillain-Barre syndrome that can cause paralysis. Two U.S.-Brazilian studies will have initial results by May on whether the Zika virus spreading through the Americas is causing birth defects and other neurological disorders, a senior U.S. public health official said on Friday.
The studies seek to confirm that the mosquito-borne virus is responsible for an unprecedented surge in Brazil of babies born with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly, and that it can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, a temporary paralysis in adults. Since it appeared in Brazil last year, the virus has spread to at least 32 countries and territories, mostly in the Americas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Zika had previously been viewed as a relatively mild illness, but concern over the possible link to birth defects prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1. The CDC will monitor 100 babies with microcephaly and their mothers in Brazil and compare them with healthy babies to determine whether Zika caused the brain defects during the early months of pregnancy. Another CDC study underway in Brazil is looking at whether there is a link between Zika and Guillain-Barré.
Results are expected this spring, said CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat. “Scientists are increasingly confident that Zika is causing microcephaly, but people may have different judgments about how much proof is enough,” Schuchat told reporters during a two-day meeting in the Brazilian capital on how to deal with the virus, which is borne by the same mosquito that transmits dengue and yellow fever.
“The epidemiologic studies ongoing here in Brazil and some being initiated in Colombia should help cement the link,” she said. Researchers are closely watching Colombia, the country with the most Zika cases after Brazil, but no microcephaly cases. Pregnant women in Colombia confirmed as being infected by the Zika virus will deliver babies in coming months, which is an opportunity for gathering further evidence, Dr. Bruce Aylward of the WHO said.
The WHO said on Friday it could take four to six months to prove the link.