Zika Virus is No Longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern


Although infection with the Zika virus remains a "public health challenge," as it is still circulating in many parts of the world, the World Health Organization no longer deems it one of international concern.

Most people can agree that 2016 has been a very difficult year, but as it comes to an end so do many of the things that made it so, like the elections and the international public health threat caused by the Zika virus.

The Zika virus has been spreading across the Americas since 2014, and links to Guillain-Barré syndrome, microcephaly, and other neurological complications have been verified. According to the most recent World Health Organization situation report, 67 countries and territories have reported vector-borne transmission of the virus since 2015. So far, since November 13, no new countries have reported first cases of viral transmission through the Zika vector; and while no countries have reported new cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome since the same time, Argentina and Guadeloupe have had cases of microcephaly or other central nervous system malformations that may have been caused by infection with the Zika virus.

Earlier this year, the WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, declared the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), based on the advice of 18 experts who analyzed the link between the presence of the virus and a rise in neurological complications. She stated that, “A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.” Since then, efforts to develop vaccines and tests, as well as to reduce vector prevalence have proven successful.

Now, under the International Health Regulations (IHR), Dr. Chan assembled the fifth meeting of the Emergency Committee on November 18, 2016, to discuss the Zika virus and associated complications, such as microcephaly. During the teleconference, the Committee discussed the epidemiology, history, spread, transmission, and complications associated with the Zika virus. Brazil, Thailand, and the United States reported on prevalence of Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly and efforts to control the spread of the virus.

After careful consideration, the Emergency Committee agreed that the Zika virus and the complications linked to infection “remain a significant enduring public health challenge requiring intense action but no longer represent a PHEIC as defined under the IHR.” The Committee also reviewed a Zika response plan before coming to this decision. Although the Zika virus remains a problem in several parts of the world, such as Singapore, Puerto Rico, and Florida, it is no longer considered as big of a global health threat.

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