Zika is a viral disease transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes species mosquitoes. It is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, as it can cause serious birth defects to new-borns. With the use of nuclear-derived techniques, we assist Members States in detecting the virus and preventing its spread.

The Zika virus mostly affects regions in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Africa, where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are abundant. While symptoms are usually mild and similar to a common cold, the virus is particularly threatening to pregnant women and their foetuses as it might cause microcephaly, a condition in which the baby has a head that is smaller than the normal size and can lead to problems in the development of the child. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika outbreaks an international public health emergency.

Through technical cooperation and training, the IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), assists Members States in using the sterile insect technique, a form of pest control that uses ionizing radiation to sterilize male insects, thereby dramatically reducing their offspring. This proven nuclear-derived technique has been used for over 50 years to control major agricultural insect pests, such as fruit flies, tsetse flies, screwworm flies and moths. The SIT has the potential to be effective also against mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya. The IAEA also assists Member States with the use of nuclear-derived techniques such as the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the detection of such viruses in animal carriers.

Together with the FAO, we provide training to strengthen Member States’ knowledge base and human capacities, reinforce their experts’ technical and managerial skills, and support the integration of these applications into countries’ national mosquito control plans.

We have sent RT-PCR equipment to several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through its Peaceful Uses Initiative, the IAEA also mobilizes extra-budgetary contributions to support technical cooperation in the use of nuclear applications to combat infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika.

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