The World Health Organization announced Thursday that it would convene an emergency meeting to try to find ways to stop the transmission of the Zika virus — which officials said is "spreading explosively" across the Americas.
"The level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly, " Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, said in a briefing to member countries in Geneva.
Chan said that the situation today is dramatically different than last year because of the surge in the number of cases and the severity of the symptoms and that "the level of alarm is extremely high."
Health officials said the number of countries impacted by mosquitoes that are spreading the virus locally is now up to 23. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the United States now has 31 laboratory confirmed cases in 11 states and the District of Columbia. All are travel-related, the CDC's Lyle Petersen said, and "this number is increasing rapidly." The country also has 20 additional cases because of local transmission in U.S. territories — 19 in Puerto Rico and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Alternately at The Guardian. Some believe that South American countries will loosen abortion restrictions in response to the virus. For example, Brazil's Supreme Federal Court ruled in 2012 that abortion was legal in cases when a fetus develops anencephaly (no brain). The Zika virus in Brazil is being linked to a 20x increase in microcephaly (abnormally small brain) prevalence, which is not always fatal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a travel alert for 14 nations affected by the mosquito-borne Zika virus. One of those nations, El Salvador, is recommending against pregnancy due to a risk of birth defects suspected to be caused by the virus:
The entire region has erupted with concern over the virus, and each country has taken measures to combat its spread. Other Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Ecuador, as well as Jamaica in the Caribbean, have recommended delaying pregnancies, though not for an entire two years.
The rest of Latin America has responded with different tactics, ranging from widespread fumigation efforts to directing citizens not to be bitten by the Aedes mosquito, which is known to carry yellow, chikungunya and dengue fevers.
So far, the hardest hit nation in the region has been Brazil, where more than a million cases have been confirmed, including nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly in newborns that could be linked to Zika. Microcephaly is a rare, incurable condition in which an infant's head is abnormally small.
Brazil has announced its plans to control the Zika virus while continuing to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro:
Inspections of Olympic facilities will begin four months before the Games to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds. Daily sweeps will also take place during the Games. But fumigation would only be an option on a case-by-case basis because of concerns for the health of the athletes and visitors.
The Brazilian health ministry says it is also banking on the fact that the Games are taking place in the cooler, drier month of August when mosquitoes are far less evident and there are considerably fewer cases of mosquito-borne viruses.
The World Health Organization warns that Zika is likely to spread across all of the Americas.
New research has found that over 2 billion people live in parts of the world where the Zika virus can spread via mosquitoes:
More than two billion people live in parts of the world where the Zika virus can spread, detailed maps published in the journal eLife show. The Zika virus, which is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, triggered a global health emergency this year. Last week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the virus causes severe birth defects.
The latest research showed mapping Zika was more complex than simply defining where the mosquito can survive. One of the researchers, Dr Oliver Brady from the University of Oxford, told the BBC: "These are the first maps to come out that really use the data we have for Zika - earlier maps were based on Zika being like dengue or chikungunya. "We are the first to add the very precise geographic and environmental conditions data we have on Zika." By learning where Zika could thrive the researchers could then predict where else may be affected. The researchers confirmed that large areas of South America, the focus of the current outbreak, are susceptible.
To put that in perspective, a recent estimate states: "The world population (the total number of living humans on Earth) was 7.349 billion as of July 1, 2015 according to the medium fertility estimate by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. "
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Zika Virus and Birth Defects
The World Health Organization (WHO) is intensifying efforts to investigate the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is believed to cause microcephaly (infants born with abnormally small brains):
The World Health Organization has declared the cluster of microcephaly associated with the spread of the Zika virus to be a public health emergency of international concern — a designation reserved for an"extraordinary event" that is "serious, unusual or unexpected." Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said during a press briefing Monday that an international coordinated response was needed to improve mosquito control as well as to expedite the development of tests that detect the Zika virus.
The declaration is chiefly important to intensify the efforts to prove that the Zika virus is causing microcephaly in infants. Essentially, Chan said, if the Zika virus was not thought to be causing these neurological problems in newborns, it would not be a "clinically serious condition." Dr. David L. Heymann, assistant director-general of the WHO, said that it was unclear how long it would take to definitively link the Zika virus to microcephaly in children.
Brazil's Health Minister says that the Zika outbreak is worse than believed because most of the infected show no symptoms.
Here is another article taking down a conspiracy theory that claims that the Zika outbreak is the result of genetically modified mosquitoes and intended for population control.