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Zika outbreak shares key traits with Ebola crisis, Stanford experts point out

An op-ed co-authored by global-health physician Michele Barry, MD, calls attention today to alarming parallels between the outbreaks of Ebola and Zika. In the Los Angeles Times, she and co-author Yanbai Andrea Wang, JD, PhD, write:

Both were detected late... Both disease outbreaks generated sluggish international responses... And in both outbreaks, the heaviest burden fell on vulnerable populations least able to bear it...

These mistakes will continue to repeat, they write, unless significant changes are made:

To build an effective global system for containing infectious diseases like Zika and Ebola, we need to make sure that countries around the world have the surveillance capacity to identify outbreaks before they spiral out of control. That means giving technical and financial assistance to developing countries and having external monitoring and incentives to make sure that capacity is built. We also need to make sure that WHO — the only organization with the representation and legitimacy to do so — is up to the task of leading outbreak response when local forces are overwhelmed.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause fever and joint pain and, in some cases, severe birth defects such as microcephaly. Recent cases have been concentrated in South and Latin America, particularly northern Brazil, and on Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

Photos of babies with tiny heads have captured global attention, Barry and Wang note. "Let's remember the broader systemic shortcomings that got us here in the first place."

Previously: Ebola: It's not over, Ebola: This outbreak is different and Stanford team develops a method to prevent the viral infection that causes dengue fever
Photo courtesy of USDA

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