:Aedes aegypti mosquitos
:Aedes aegypti mosquitos

The Zika virus, which has been associated with an increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads, is spreading through the Americas “explosively”, the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned, adding that the “level of alarm is extremely high”.

Speaking in Geneva, Margaret Chan said a relationship between the virus and birth malformations and neurological syndromes had yet to be established but was “strongly suspected”.

As a result of the suspected link, the risks that are presented by the virus – so-called because it was first isolated in 1947 from a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda – are no longer considered to be mild, Ms Chan said, and the risk profile is now thought to be one of “alarming proportions”. She has called for a meeting of the WHO’s emergency committee next month to discuss the threats.

The Zika virus, which is being spread by mosquitos, has been detected in 23 countries and territories in the Americas.

Ms Chan said the conditions association with the El Nino weather pattern are expected to “increase mosquito populations greatly” in many areas where the virus has been detected.

Ms Chan said:

The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly.

For all these reasons, I have decided to convene an Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations. The Committee will meet in Geneva on Monday, 1 February.

I am asking the Committee for advice on the appropriate level of international concern and for recommended measures that should be undertaken in affected countries and elsewhere. I will also ask the Committee to prioritize areas where research is most urgently needed.

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