WHO leader: Zika virus ‘spreading explosively’

(CNN) — The Zika virus “is now spreading explosively” around the Americas, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday, calling the level of alarm over the disease “extremely high.”

“The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told her organization’s executive board members. “We need to get some answers, quickly.”

The mosquito-borne disease is now in “23 countries and territories in the region,” according to Chan. While it’s been around in some form for decades, alarms have been raised only recently about Zika’s suspected connection with “birth malformations and neurological symptoms.”

“Arrival of the virus in some places has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome,” Chan explained.

After being first detected in 1947 in a monkey in Uganda, Zika was most often found along the equator from Africa into Asia. Nine years ago, new cases popped up in islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Last year, it made its way to the Americas — with already devastating results.

The number of cases there has grown exponentially, prompting significant public health measures aimed at curbing it and protecting those most endangered by it, particularly women who could become pregnant or who already are.

Chan called an emergency committee meeting to convene February 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, to talk about what health officials worldwide should do about the Zika virus.

U.S.-based researchers Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin had called for just such a meeting in an article published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, criticizing the World Health Organization for not stepping up sooner.

“The very process of convening the committee would catalyze international attention, funding, and research,” Lucey and Gostin wrote. “While Brazil, PAHO, and the CDC have acted rapidly, WHO headquarters has thus far not been proactive, given potentially serious ramifications.”

WTNH NEWS8 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Also, you can now block any inappropriate user by simple selecting the drop down menu on the right of any comment and selection "Block User" from there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s