Zika virus no longer global health emergency, but remains a threat

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – The World Health Organization declared an end Friday afternoon to its global health emergency over the spread of the Zika virus, but officials say that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

Since the WHO first declared a state of emergency in February, the Zika virus has spread to almost every country in the Western Hemisphere besides Canada. Thousands of babies suffered deformities as a result of the infection.

However, no longer calling this disease a health emergency hasn’t downgraded its importance.

Although mosquito season has ended in some areas of the world and transmission of the virus has slowed, it’s far from gone.

“The consequences of the disease are still out there. Basically, they’re saying that it’s going to be an endemic disease now. They have to go into long-term planning for how they’re going to respond to it,” said Susan Kovach, deputy director of the Community Health Division at the Mahoning County Board of Health.

Friday’s announcement emphasized that Zika is still a high priority. Now the organization will create a technical committee to handle Zika research, vaccine development and other efforts going forward.

“They are still going to have funding for it and lots of planning around it, but I think they realize this is just not going to go away,” Kovach said.

In Mahoning County, the board of health is taking the same approach.

“We are going to put out the mosquito trapping and a public information campaign, kind of like we did this year about making sure people aren’t leaving containers out in their backyards that can collect water, make sure they’re dumping everything,” Kovach said.

As for the type of mosquito that was thought to carry the virus locally, the health department says it never identified that mosquito in any of its traps.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a statement Friday on the Zika virus, saying that this move “does not change the need to continue efforts to combat the virus and its effects.”