Health and Science

One year on since Zika emergency, Vietnam faces new infections

One year ago today, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the mosquito-borne virus known as Zika an international public health emergency.

Zika is no longer classified as a crisis, according to a WHO statement in November, but despite the best efforts of health officials, the number of global infections continues to rise.

Vietnam in particular has faced a high number of outbreaks over the past month. The Southeast Asian nation's very first case was reported in April 2016 but late last year, more people began contracting the disease. The majority are within Ho Chi Minh, home to around 145 cases in total, with health officials warning on Dec. 21 that the city was averaging 10 cases per week, according to local media.

Hanoi, January 26 2017: Locals shop at the Quang Ba flower market during the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
Linh Pham / Getty Images

Because the principal vector carrying Zika, the Aedes mosquito, is widespread in Vietnam, the country faces the risk of endemic transmission, a situation where infections occur year-round, a WHO spokesperson told CNBC on Wednesday.

The Zika fever, which has similar symptoms to dengue fever, is not typically regarded as life-threatening but it has resulted in deaths and is especially dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause birth defects. There is no known treatment, but global scientists are working on a number of vaccines and preventive treatments.

Last month, the virus entered Vietnam's rural areas, particularly the southern Dong Nai province, where local health authorities declared an outbreak within the Vinh Thanh commune on Jan. 9 after four new cases were reported from December to early January, local media said.

"Data collection and analysis should be enhanced to monitor the geographical distribution and temporal trends of Zika virus transmission and related complications, especially the congenital virus syndrome Guillain-Barre," the WHO said, adding that it was working closely with the government to strengthen the country's preparedness and response capacity.

Of course, it's not just Vietnam battling fresh outbursts this year.

Last month, Angola reported its first two cases of the disease, which come on the heels of a major yellow fever epidemic in the Southwest African nation. Stateside, Florida has announced four new incidents since the year began and one new contraction was reported in Texas last week. And last month, Jamaican authorities declared the country's first case of microcephaly, a condition where heads of newborn babies are smaller than average.

"Overall, the global risk assessment has not changed," the WHO said in a January report, warning that vigilance worldwide must remain high.