BY MEGAN MAHEDY
This past week, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the reported mass of birth defects linked to the Zika Virus a global public health emergency.
Previously, the WHO has only announced a global public health emergency three times since 2007. These emergencies have included the influenza pandemic in 2009, the polio resurgent in 2014 and the Ebola Crisis in 2014.
In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil, and the disease has since spread to 29 other countries in South and Central America, including: Haiti, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.
WHO Director Dr. Margaret Chan announced in a press release that the organization acknowledged the link between the Zika Virus and microcephaly in babies and more scientific research will follow.
Microcephaly, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is “a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.”
WHO has estimated that approximately four million people could be infected with Zika by the end of the year.
What is the Zika Virus and how is it transmitted?
The Zika virus is a disease spread through mosquito bites. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.
Death is a very rare result of Zika; however the disease can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy, or around the time of birth.
What are the symptoms of Zika?
The CDC reports that 20 percent of people infected with the Zika virus will get sick.
For those that do, the CDC reports that the illness is typically “mild,” and therefore many do not realize that they are sick.
Symptoms can inclue fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, or red eyes.
Are you at risk of being infected?
Anyone traveling, or living in any area with reported outbreaks of the Zika virus are found to be at risk of being infected with Zika from mosquito bites.
Approximately 35 travel-related Zika cases have been reported to the CDC from U.S. states.
Those traveling to a South or Central American country can visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information for the most updated travel information on prevention and safety precautions.