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January 29, 2016

Health officials warn of spreading virus’ potential link to birth defects

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Essential question

How does the international community respond to disease outbreaks that spread to numerous countries?


The World Health Organization issued a strong warning Thursday about the dangers of a new mosquito-born illness known as Zika virus which they now say is “spreading explosively.”

Twenty-three countries have reported cases of Zika, according to WHO, with the majority concentrated in Central and South America. WHO officials said there could be as many as three to four million cases in the Americas in the next year.

The Zika virus has spread rapidly and no vaccine or cure currently exists, according to the WHO. Most people experience mild symptoms once infected, but some women who contract the virus while pregnant appear to be at risk of transmitting the illness to their unborn babies.

Although researchers say the chances of pregnant women passing the virus on to their baby are rare, WHO health officials are concerned that birth defects like microcephaly, when a baby is born with an abnormally small head, and other neurological problems, may be tied to Zika virus.

WHO officials will meet in Switzerland on Monday for a crisis meeting to come up with health guidelines and a coordinated action plan.


Key terms

vaccine — an injection of a killed microbe in order to stimulate the immune system against that microbe, thereby preventing disease

immunity — the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or sensitized white blood cells

microcephaly —  rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What organization is responsible for protecting global health?
  2. How are viruses spread?
  3. What can governments do to prevent a disease from spreading?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why is it so much more dangerous for women to contract the Zika virus while pregnant?
  2. What should the World Health Organization do to prevent the further spread of Zika?
  3. Do you think El Salvador’s call for women not to become pregnant before 2018 is a reasonable response to the situation? Explain.
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