WHO to consider declaring international emergency over Zika virus

The World Health Organization offered a powerful new warning about the rapid spread of the Zika virus, which apparently causes birth defects such as microcephaly and neurological problems. Officials estimate that there could be 3 to 4 million cases in the Americas over the next year alone. In some countries, officials have urged women to avoid getting pregnant. Judy Woodruff reports.

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    United Nations health experts issued a powerful new warning today about the Zika virus. The World Health Organization said it may have mushroomed into a full-blown global emergency.

  • DR. MARGARET CHAN, Director-General, World Health Organization:

    It is now spreading explosively.


    The sense of urgency was palpable as WHO Director Margaret Chan addressed a special session on the Zika virus in Geneva.


    As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region. The level of alarm is extremely high.


    Most of the outbreak has been concentrated across Central and South America. WHO officials estimated today there could be three to four million cases in the Americas over the next year alone.

    Brazil, hosting this summer's Olympics, has been hit the hardest, with more than a million people contracting the virus. Fear has spiked there with a rise in birth defects apparently caused by Zika, babies born with small heads, known as microcephaly, and with neurological problems.


    The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.


    Researchers say it's still relatively rare that a pregnant woman infected around the time of delivery can pass the virus to her newborn. There's also been one report of a possible spread through blood transfusion, and another through sexual contact.

    Today, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff announced a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations next week on how to eradicate the virus. In the meantime, some 220,000 Brazilian soldiers are going house to house, checking for stagnant water and fumigating for mosquitoes that transmit Zika.

    El Salvador has taken still more drastic measures. Last week, its deputy health minister urged women to refrain from getting pregnant before 2018. At least 31 Americans were infected in the past year, but all are believed to have contracted the virus after traveling to affected areas.

    For now, there is no cure, and the WHO says it could take years to get a vaccine.

  • DR. SYLVAIN ALDIGHIERI, World Health Organization:

    There is no immunity. So we would expect huge numbers of infections, some detected, some not detected.


    The agency was criticized for not moving quickly enough on the Ebola outbreak. But it's calling a crisis meeting for Monday on whether to declare Zika an international health emergency.

    We will get an expert perspective on Zika after the news summary.

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