The rapid spread of the Zika virus in Latin America and its apparent association with microcephaly is concerning, said an expert in legal and ethical issues relating to public health responses to epidemics. However, fear-based reactions are not the answer.
"The El Salvadoran recommendation for women to avoid pregnancy before 2018 is unwarranted and unrealistic," said Leslie Wolf, professor of law at Georgia State University and director of the Center for Law, Health & Society program at the College of Law.
International collaboration on global health is critical in dealing with epidemics such as Zika and Ebola, she said.
"We are increasingly connected, and disease can spread rapidly from continent to continent. We cannot afford to ignore diseases that do not currently threaten high-income countries," Wolf said. "Effective public health response requires coordinated action - in identifying public health threats, developing appropriate responses, conducting research, and, when available, disseminating effective treatment and vaccines."
The Zika virus outbreak raises different legal issues than prior epidemics, Wolf said. Because the disease is spread by mosquitos, not person to person, the mechanisms for combating the epidemic will be different.
"There is no need for isolating individuals, as was done in Ebola," she said. "Rather, the focus will be on mosquito control, balanced against environmental concerns. But it is essential that those measures be distributed equitably."