The Zika virus has reached “pandemic” proportions, affecting multiple countries in South America and in the Caribbean, but CDC officials say that the U.S. faces minimal risk from the disease. The Zika virus, which normally poses little risk to the infected, can cause pregnant women to give birth to children with microcephaly, a defect that causes babies with small heads and underdeveloped brains. Earlier this week, health officials in Brazil reported that about 4,000 infants have been born with microcephaly, compared to fewer than 150 in 2014. In Colombia, more than 2,100 pregnant women, and more than 20,000 people total, have contracted Zika. Colombia has also recorded 41 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition that appears to be linked to Zika. Venezuela has 4,500 suspected cases of Zika, and 255 recent cases of Guillain-Barre.
The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, and those living in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America are particularly at risk. Women in these areas are advised to protect themselves from mosquitoes, and pregnant women are advised to postpone travel to areas where Zika is spreading. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, is expected to determine next week whether the WHO needs to coordinate an international emergency response. On Monday, the WHO declared a global public health emergency over concerns surrounding the virus, an action the group has taken only three times in the past.