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World Health Organization Declares Zika virus a Global Health Emergency

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Zika virus is transmitted by a specific kind of mosquito


The World Health Organization (WHO) is declaring the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) today, February 1. 

The WHO has activated an incident management system and a new contingency fund to pay for the initial, international response. That response includes standardizing surveillance and intensifying research to see if the virus causes birth defects, known as Microcephaly, in fetuses. The WHO says it’s not known how long it’ll take to determine the link between the virus and Microcephaly.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) plans to bring together an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee to address the Zika virus on Monday, February 1, in Geneva, Switzerland. The group will decide whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The PHEIC designation would imply a situation that is serious, unusual or unexpected and carries implications for public health beyond the affected countries’ borders. If the virus obtains the PHEIC label, it will allow the WHO to coordinate a more comprehensive, international response.

As of now, WHO specialists are working closely with impacted regions. The efforts include strengthening testing measure and decreasing reporting time. 

The WHO says it’s working to develop a vaccine, control mosquito populations and improve diagnostic tests, as well as increase monitoring in countries where the virus could potentially spread.

The Zika virus was first detected in Brazil in May 2015. The virus is transmitted by a specific kind of mosquito and is especially concerning to pregnant women. The WHO has not established a direct link between the Zika virus and birth defects, but it is strongly suspected. Learn more about the Zika virus.