The World Health Organization has declared that the Zika virus poses a global public health emergency.
The infection, which experts fear is spreading very fast, has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.
This alert puts Zika in the same category of international concern as Ebola and will help fast-track research and aid toward fighting the infection.
Although the mosquito-borne virus’s symptoms are relatively mild, it is believed to be linked to a surge in cases of microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain.
WHO chief Margaret Chan said the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly was “strongly suspected but not yet scientifically proven.”
On its website, WHO says it is deeply concerned about this rapidly evolving situation for four main reasons:
- the possible association of infection with birth malformations and neurological syndromes
- the potential for further international spread given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquito vector
- the lack of population immunity in newly affected areas
- and the absence of vaccines, specific treatments, and rapid diagnostic tests
Also, conditions associated with this year’s El Niño weather pattern are expected to increase mosquito populations greatly in many areas.