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WHO announces Public Health Emergency of International Concern

On 1 February 2016, the World Health Organisation announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in relation to the recent cluster of neurological disorders and neonatal malformations reported in the Americas region in areas affected by the Zika virus. In response to this announcement, the British Society for Immunology have released the following statement.

Professor Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“The increase in the number of cases of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in areas affected by Zika virus is alarming. Zika is the latest in a remarkably long line of emerging global health threats for which we don’t currently have an effective vaccine or any specific treatment ready on the shelf. Unfortunately, we can be sure it won’t be the last and it is crucial that we energise, organise and fund the UK research community to be able to respond to this type of emerging health threat at short notice. It is also vital that we invest in research that allows us to understand conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can be triggered by some viral infections. This is a rare but serious condition where the body’s immune system attacks parts of its nervous system, causing progressive muscle weakness, pain, numbness and co-ordination problems.  

“The UK Government should now look to implement the sensible recommendation from the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee that the UK should develop an emerging infections strategy to coordinate our response in this type of scenario. This would ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to quickly and efficiently mobilise our research base to develop vaccines and novel therapeutics when required. By building on our internationally recognised research strengths, we can ensure that the UK is at the forefront of global health efforts while maintaining our own resilience against such emerging threats.”

You can find out more information about the Zika virus in our information sheet.