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WHO declares Zika virus international emergency

Posted at 1:55 PM, Feb 01, 2016
 Dr. Angela Rocha (C), pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, examines Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos (2 months), who has microcephaly, on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. Brazil reported the first cases in the Americas of local transmissions of the virus last year. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Dr. Angela Rocha (C), pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, examines Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos (2 months), who has microcephaly, on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. Brazil reported the first cases in the Americas of local transmissions of the virus last year. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization has announced that the explosive spread of the Zika virus in the Americas is an “extraordinary event” that merits being declared an international emergency.

The agency convened an emergency meeting of independent experts on Monday to assess the outbreak after noting a suspicious link between Zika’s arrival in Brazil last year and a surge in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads.

Although WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said there was no definitive proof that the Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes, is responsible for the birth defects, she acknowledged on Thursday that “the level of alarm is extremely high.”

The last such public health emergency was declared for the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people.

WHO estimates there could be up to 4 million cases of Zika in the Americas in the next year.