– The Zika virus does not pose a serious threat for Turkey due to the geographical distance, however international travels to regions of outbreak risk pregnant women's lives, urged Head of Turkish Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (KLIMIK), MD, MPH Professor Önder Ergönül .
According to American Hospital Chair of Infectious Diseases Department Professor Ergönül, the rare presence of Aedes mosquitoes in Turkey spotted by scientific researches eases concerns amongst medical experts in Turkey.
Aedes mosquitoes cause widespread of the Zika, a virus thought to have links with birth defects among thousands of newly born babies particularly in Americas. These mosquitoes mostly live in tropical and subtropical climates.
Ergönül told DHA in an exclusive interview that Turkish citizens could be infected just like other European travelers who have caught the disease during their visits to critical zones. “The world is smaller now; travelling is easier” he added, warning residents and doctors to seek the "story of travel".
Following the fear in South and Central America, people who have travelled to these regions from Denmark, the U.K. and Switzerland have recently caught the virus, increasing global alarm signals.
“Death toll nearly zero”
According to researches carried out in Brazil, “The risk of microcephaly that causes babies to be born with heads which appear shrunken is 20 times higher for pregnant women who have been infected, comparing to women who have not.
“The death toll of the virus is nearly zero and the indicated deaths in the literature are known to have links with additional health problems” said Ergönül.
"Flu-alike symptoms should be looked at"
Additionally, the threat against brain development of babies have “touched” people in particular, said the professor. In fact, there are many other viruses spreading in similar conditions, he reiterated.
These viruses include the Dengue Fever, Chikungunya Fever, West Nile virus which is found in temperate and tropical regions of the world, as well as Sandfly Fever that was also spotted in Turkey.
According to Ergönül, Zika attracted attention “with its ability to rapidly spread”.
This virus “cannot spread from person to person” without the involvement of Aedes mosquitos, according to Ergönül. However, the flu-like symptoms should be taken to account, as the Zika virus reveals itself with these basic symptoms and it is a “disease with good prognosis” he stressed.
The virus can only spread from person to person “if the virus mutates”. “It has not mutated so far; but the risk continues” he warned.
"We will stick to WHO's warnings"
The alarming Zika virus has no special treatment or antiviral medication that have been developed so far. But an early treatment using anti-Influenza medication could ease the symptoms, although this is limited to a supportive treatment, he added.
“To develop vaccines against these sorts of viruses with good prognosis is mostly considered meaningless. It takes between five and 10 years to develop the vaccine and for a disease which can disappear itself, these efforts could be unnecessary. In this regard, we stick to warnings of the World Health Organization (WHO)” he underlined.
Regarding the debates on a potential relation between climate change and the outbreak of Zika virus, Ergönül suggested that a certain link could only be revealed after years of work and monitoring. Thus, this relation cannot be estimated through mathematical modellings, despite the fact that climate change influences life cycles of arthropods including mosquitos and acarids.
Meanwhile, WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan said they will convene on Feb 1 an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus in Geneva, to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Who is Önder Ergönül?
Önder Ergönül, MD, MPH has been a professor of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology at Koç University, School of Medicine since 2011.
He is the editor of a book on Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (2007, Springer). He received the Public Health Scientific award of Turkish Medical Association in 2007. He has been the president of the Turkish Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases since 2013. Most recently, he was the lead publisher of "Emerging Infectious Diseases Clinical Case Studies" which was written by Turkish scientists. The book was awarded by the British Medicine Association in this year's Medical Book Awards in the category of public health among 630 books.