The Zika virus has spread through the Americas with an estimated three to four million affected so far, the World Health Organization recently announced.
“Last year the disease was detected in the Americas, where it is spreading explosively,” said WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan. The virus has been detected within 23 countries through North, South and Central America.
“The level of alarm is extremely high. Arrival of the virus in some cases has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads,” Dr. Chan said. Due to this year’s el Niño weather pattern, mosquito populations are expected to spread, added Dr. Chan.
The virus was first discovered in Uganda’s Zika Forest in 1947. It’s a mosquito-transmitted infection similar to yellow fever and West Nile virus. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, and pregnant women infected with the virus may transmit the disease to their unborn child.
Brazil has registered nearly 4,000 babies with microcephaly since October 2015, the country’s health authorities said on Jan. 27. Microcephaly results in babies being born with abnormally small heads, developmental issues and sometimes early death.
Zika’s recent outbreak has health officials suggesting women delay pregnancy for up to two years. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued interim guidelines for pregnant women, suggesting they don’t travel to affected countries.