Zika virus now a health crisis says WHO

A MAJOR outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Australia remains possible but unlikely, despite international calls for more funds to research a vaccine.

The virus's spread to 23 countries late last month prompted the World Health Organisation to declare it a "public health emergency of international concern".

While WHO estimates there are between 500,000 and 1.5 million cases in the Americas, just two cases have been suspected in Australia - in Queensland.

Those cases in young children who recently returned from trips to tropical zones overseas were announced on Sunday.

But Australian authorities appear to have any possible outbreak in hand, partly the result of well-rehearsed responses to dengue fever outbreaks.

The Zika virus spreads by two mosquitos confined largely to northern Australia, both of which can transmit dengue fever.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said on Tuesday the federal and state governments were "watching it like a hawk", with new constraints on, and monitoring of, incoming cargo and people at relevant airports across the nation.

He said because the virus was transmitted by the same mosquitos, control mechanisms and monitoring systems for dengue could be easily adapted.

Zika has been reportedly linked to microcephaly in babies, but just 134 microcephaly cases have been linked to Zika infections out of thousands of infections in Brazil since October.

Calls from the WHO for more research into a vaccine for the virus were this week backed by the United States Health Department, which said a vaccine could be two to three years away.

Australia's International Development Minister Steven Ciobo on Sunday announced Australia would contribute $500,000 to help Pacific Island nations counter the virus.

He said those funds would focus on Tonga, where there have been some suspected cases.

At home, federal and state agencies appear ready for a potential outbreak, despite the response plans having not been tested with an actual outbreak.


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