LAHORE - In the wake of Zika fever outbreak in the South and Central America, health authorities in Punjab have also issued alert and convened series of meetings of experts for formulating strategy to control the menace.

Health department has directed all the districts to immediately go for clinical tests of people with mild symptoms of dengue. The department has also convened series of meetings to brief the stakeholders about Zika fever, its symptoms and consequences for affected people, especially pregnant women and newborns.

“There is no immediate threat of Zika virus due to little movement of people from the affected countries in South and Central America to Pakistan. Still we have issued alert to all the districts. Number of meetings have been convened to assess the prevailing situation and its possible consequences for Pakistan,” said Dr Habib-ur-Rehman, director Communicable Disease Control.

“Punjab chief secretary will convene a meeting on Monday (tomorrow) for devising future strategy. Representatives from World Health Organization, experts from technical advisory team and all relevant officers will attend the meeting. The participants will review the prevailing situation, evaluate possible consequences for Pakistan and devise strategy to safeguard health of people,” Dr Rehman added.

Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes Aegypti, the same mosquito responsible for transmitting dengue virus.

Currently, there is no vaccine or medicine to prevent and treat Zika. Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are amongst worst-affected countries.

Unlike dengue, the condition of Zika fever patient does not deteriorate that much. One in five people infected with Zika virus will develop symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Other commonly reported symptoms include headache and pain behind the eyes. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.

Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and case fatality is low. Consequences of Zika virus infection are severe for newborns of affected mothers.

Zika virus RNA has been detected in the amniotic fluid of two fetuses, indicating that it could cause a mother-to-child infection. There is a link between Zika fever and abnormalities of brain (microcephaly) and eye in newborn babies by mother-to-child transmission. The infection could lead to abortion and abnormalities of brain, from severe to mild, in the newborns.

1ST DEATHS REPORTED IN COLOMBIA

The mosquito-borne Zika virus sweeping through Latin America has claimed three lives in Colombia, as the United Nations urged increased access to abortion because of fears of severe birth defects.

In the first direct statements from government health officials blaming Zika for causing deaths, Colombia's National Health Institute (INS) said the patients died after contracting the virus and developing a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome. Cases of the syndrome - in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, causing weakness and sometimes paralysis - have increased in tandem with the Zika outbreak, fuelling suspicions that it is a complication of the otherwise mild tropical fever, which is also blamed for causing brain damage in babies born to infected mothers.

"Other cases (of deaths linked to Zika) are going to emerge," said epidemiologist Martha Lucia Ospina, director of the INS.

"The world is realizing that Zika can be deadly. The mortality rate is not very high, but it can be deadly." Most Guillain-Barre patients recover, but the syndrome sometimes causes paralysis or even death.