WHO declares Zika virus outbreak a public health emergency


GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization on Monday sounded an alarm over the recent outbreak of the Zika virus, calling the spread an international health emergency. The Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes and has spread into more than 20 countries in Latin America over the last nine months. By declaring the rare emergency, the W.H.O. allows nations impacted by the outbreak to fight it with powerful new tools and resources. The primary concern among health officials is that the Zika virus might be linked to microcephaly -- a neurodevelopmental disorder in newborns that is accompanied by brain damage and failure of the babies' heads to grow to the proper size. "Last year, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively," WHO director Margaret Chan said last week. "Cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region. The level of alarm is extremely high." The mosquito-borne virus was discovered in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947, and mostly has affected monkeys. Although there have been small outbreaks of the virus in humans, including one in the Pacific Islands in 2007, it has posed little threat to humans and was considered a mild concern. Stephen Feller contributed to this reportDoug G. Ware

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