Obama, Rousseff share Zika concerns

2016-01-30 07:45
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PICS: Zika virus outbreak spreads across the Americas

The Zika virus is "spreading explosively" in the Americas and the region may see up to four million cases of the disease strongly suspected of causing birth defects, the World Health Organisation warns.

Washingto - Brazil and the United States agreed on Friday to launch a high-level bilateral group to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus that has spread rapidly across the Americas and been linked to microcephaly.

President Dilma Rousseff and her US counterpart Barack Obama discussed their "shared concerns" about the virus' progress, the White House said.

"The leaders agreed on the importance of collaborative efforts to deepen our knowledge, advance research and accelerate work to develop better vaccines and other technologies to control the virus."

It said the pair also "agreed to continue to prioritize building national, regional and global capacity to combat infectious disease threats more broadly."

Rousseff's office said the bilateral group would "develop a partnership in the production of vaccines and therapeutics".

It will be based on an existing cooperation agreement between Brazil's Butantan Institute of biomedical research and the US National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine against dengue.

The tropical virus is blamed for causing brain damage in babies as it sweeps through Latin America, and Rousseff, whose government is deploying 220 000 soldiers to help eradicate the mosquitoes that transmit it, has likened the outbreak to a battle.

Since Zika, which originated in Africa, was detected in Latin America last year, there has been a surge in babies born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads.

Brazil, the hardest hit, sounded the alarm in October, when a rash of microcephaly cases emerged in the northeast.

Since then, there have been 270 confirmed cases of microcephaly and 3 448 suspected cases, up from 147 in 2014.

The otherwise mild Zika virus is also suspected of causing a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome in some patients, in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, causing weakness and sometimes paralysis.

Most patients recover, but the syndrome is sometimes deadly.

Read more on:    brazil  |  us  |  zika virus  |  health

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