On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the Zika virus was spreading “explosively” in the Americas, announcing that they would hold an emergency meeting on Monday to determine whether to declare a public health emergency or not. “The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty,” said Margaret Chan, director general of the organization. “Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly.”
The mosquito-borne virus, which is usually non-life threatening for adults but has been linked to birth defects, has caused panic in Brazil and other Latin-American and Caribbean countries. According to new official numbers from Brazil’s health authorities, the number of reported cases of microcephaly (which causes infants to be born with abnormally small heads) had climbed to 4,180 since October. Before the epidemic, only about 150 such cases were reported each year.
On Tuesday, U.S. scientists had called on the World Health Organization to heed the lessons from the slow response to the Ebola outbreak and take urgent action over the Zika virus, which they believe could become an “explosive pandemic”. “An Emergency Committee should be convened urgently to advise the Director-General about the conditions necessary to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” Daniel R Lucey and Lawrence O. Gostin wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.”The very process of convening the committee would catalyze international attention, funding, and research.”
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that scientists at the National Institutes of Health were working hard to battle the virus. “We are already on our way on the first steps to developing a vaccine,” he said. “And we have started to work on a diagnostic to tell if someone’s been infected.”