- WHO convenes emergency committee
- Spread is of “alarming proportions”
- Linked to birth defect
The World Health Organisation has sounded the global alarm about the Zika virus.
The spread of the disease in South America coincides with a steep rise in cases of microcephaly, or babies born with abnormally-small heads.
Medical experts say the disease has explosive pandemic potential
The organisation has set up an emergency committee to deal with the outbreak. It will meet on Monday in Geneva.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan says the spread of the mosquito-borne disease has gone from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.
“A causal relationship between Zika virus infection, birth malformations and neurological symptoms has not yet been established, but is strongly suspected.”
“This is a very important point.”
The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.”
What is Zika?
Identified in Uganda in 1947, the first cases of this recent outbreak were reported in Brazil in 2015.
It is carried by mosquitoes and has since spread to more than 20 countries.
A case has also been identified in Denmark.
The disease is difficult to diagnose, as most of those infected have no symptoms.
WHO officials think up to 1.5 million people may have been infected.
What you need to know
Zika is carried by mosquitoes.
Only 1 in 5 people infected will develop symptoms.
- Mild fever
- joint pain
No vaccine or drug treatment is available. Prevention is the best option and people are urged to follow the usual precautions against mosquito-borne diseases:
- use repellent sprays
- cover up arms and legs with clothing
- keep doors and windows closed
- Drain stagnant water
Zika is rarely fatal.
Health workers are concerned about prenatal health and a rise in cases of microcephaly.