Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil Zika outbreak: New test kits for mosquito-borne viruses

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen in containers at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, on January 8, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes are the transmitters of all three viruses

The Brazilian Health ministry says it's developed new testing kits to rapidly identify the presence of three viruses - Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya - all carried by the same mosquito.

Health Minister Marcelo Castro said priority for testing would be given to pregnant women.

Brazil has the largest known outbreak of Zika, which has been linked to a sharp spike in birth defects.

Mr Castro also announced extra funds to speed up finding a vaccine for Zika.

He said that the goal was to develop a vaccine "in record time".

At the moment the only way to fight Zika is to clear standing water where mosquitoes breed.

The aim is that the tests will speed up diagnosis and ensure patients get correct medical treatment fast.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Most of the cases of microencephaly in Brazil have been in the poorer north-eastern states

Since October around 3,530 babies have been born with microencephaly, which can lead to small heads and under-developed brains.

Fewer than 150 cases of microencephaly were seen in Brazil throughout 2014.

The US State Department confirmed its first case of a baby born with brain damage because of infection by the Zika virus.

The baby was born in a hospital in Oahu, Hawaii.

The Hawaii State Department of Health said the mother was believed to have contracted Zika while living in Brazil in May 2015 and that the baby was most likely infected in the womb.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert on Friday advising pregnant women to avoid travelling to Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries where outbreaks of Zika have been registered.

The travel alert applies to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes species mosquito.

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