(Talk Media News) – The World Health Organization said Thursday that Zika virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americans and announced that it would convene an emergency meeting on Monday to hash out ways to stop its transmission.
“The level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly,” said WHO director-general Margaret Chan in a briefing to member countries in Geneva. She said that the disease had gone from a mild threat to an alarming one.
The effects of the mosquito borne disease are unnoticeable in near 80 percent of infected people, to somewhat benign in others — with a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes sometimes resulting. However, it is suspected of causing microcephaly, a birth defect that causes children to be born with exceptionally small brains, in babies when the mother is infected during pregnancy.
“A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth defects and neurological syndromes has not been established, but is strongly suspected,” WHO said in a statement announcing the emergency meeting.
The disease is native to to the narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia, with the first reported case that spread west to Brazil in May 2015. Since then, it has spread to 22 other countries and territories in the region.
While WHO has been involved with mitigation in the region since then, it said in a statement Thursday that it will support “the scaling up and strengthening of surveillance systems” in countries that have reported infections.
“In the coming weeks, the [WHO] will convene experts to address critical gaps in scientific knowledge about the virus and its potential effects on fetuses, children and adult,” the statement read.
There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika virus, a cousin of the dengue and chikungunya viruses.