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The first meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee on the Zika virus was held yesterday (1st February) and decided to designate the virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Committee’s 18 experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications.

The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better.

The experts also considered patterns of recent spread and the broad geographical distribution of mosquito species that can transmit the virus.

The lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries were cited as further causes for concern.

In the Committee’s view, a coordinated international response is needed to minimize the threat in affected countries and reduce the risk of further international spread.

The Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus.

From a business perspective, the Zika virus represents a social corporate responsibility issue rather than a major business continuity challenge. The impacts of Zika are unlikely to result in widespread workplace absences or supply chain continuity impacts. However, sector-specific business continuity issues may arise for the tourism and the sports sectors, with the Zika risks to the Brazil Olympics currently under scrutiny.

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