WHO to convene emergency team on Zika

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Added On January 31, 2016

The latest on the Zika outbreak.

 
The threat of the virus is quickly looming large, as the disease has spread to 23 countries in the Americas since the first reported case in Brazil last May.
 
The World Health Organization has decided to convene an Emergency Committee next Monday, and scientists from around the world will join in the virtual meeting. World News has the details. 
 
PKG
 
Experts will first decide if the Zika outbreak should be treated as a global emergency.
 
The last time WHO issued such an alarm was in August 2014, when Ebola was wreaking havoc in West Africa.
 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MARGARET CHAN, WHO Director-General
"The level of alarm is extremely high. I have decided to convene an Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations."
 
When infected, most people show no symptoms, or only a mild fever or headache.
 
But the virus poses a much graver danger for pregnant women.
 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MARGARET CHAN, WHO Director-General
"Arrival of the virus in some places has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads."
 
This could result in undeveloped brain or death in new born babies.
 
Although scientists don't know for sure, they strongly suspect there's a direct link between the virus and increasing cases of microcephaly.
 
Another possible complication is Guillain-Barre syndrome, where a patient's immune system attacks its own nerves. This could lead to paralysis or in severe cases, death.
 
The WHO says the Zika virus itself is not their biggest concern. It is the associated syndromes that are the most worrisome.
    
Still, up to 4 million people are estimated to get infected this year.
 
Zika spreads through a specific kind of mosquitoes called Aedes genus.
 
Scientists fear the El Nino weather pattern will greatly increase mosquito populations in many places.
 
Surveillance systems have been scaled up in Brazil and countries where the virus may spread to. 
 
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda. For decades, the disease affected mainly monkeys. 
 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MARGARET CHAN, WHO Director-General
"The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly."