WHO Calls for Emergency Meeting on Zika

WHO Calls for Emergency Meeting on Zika WHO Calls for Emergency Meeting on Zika

The World Health Organization on Thursday called for an emergency committee on the Zika virus, which is “spreading explosively” and suspected of causing birth defects.

The meeting, scheduled for Monday, will examine whether the Zika outbreak should be classified as an international health emergency, WHO said in a statement, NBC News reported.

WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan said the virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas. “The level of alarm is extremely high,” she said.

Experts strongly suspect that Zika is causing a severe birth defect called microcephaly, in which babies’ brains are underdeveloped. It’s not certain yet, but evidence is building.

‘The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika, from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions,” Chan said in remarks to WHO’s executive board.

“The increased incidence of microcephaly is particularly alarming, as it places a heart-breaking burden on families and communities.” But WHO officials stressed there were still doubts about what might actually be causing the rise in microcephaly in Brazil as a similar increase in cases has not been seen in other countries that have or have had Zika.

 4m at Risk

At least 23 countries have local spread of Zika and WHO says the virus will likely eventually spread to almost every country in the Americas except Canada and Chile, which don’t have the mosquito species that transmits the virus. WHO predicts the virus will infect 3 million to 4 million people in the Americas.

But US health experts downplayed the risk for their residents. “For the average American who is not traveling, this is not a problem,” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters. That’s because it takes two factors for the virus to spread: actively infected people and the right kind of mosquitoes to spread it.

The Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes that spread Zika and related viruses such as dengue only circulate widely in very southern parts of the US and Hawaii. “We do think the living conditions in general in the United States, the lack of density, better air conditioning, wider use of screens, will keep us in better shape,” said Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

 WHO, Chan Admonished

On Wednesday, two experts on international health matters criticized Chan and WHO of acting far too slowly in raising the alarm about Zika.

“The director general has taken a critical first step in recognizing the seriousness of an emerging epidemic,” said Dr.

Lawrence Gostin, who heads the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

“She now must urgently mobilize international resources to curb the rapid spread of Zika worldwide, including aggressive mosquito control, active surveillance, accelerated vaccine research, and travel advisories for pregnant women. It is far better to be over-prepared than to wait until a Zika epidemic spins out of control.”