Three to four million people could be infected with Zika virus in the Americas this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts.
Most will not develop symptoms, but the virus, spread by mosquitoes, has been linked to brain defects in babies. Meanwhile, the US says it hopes to begin human vaccine trials by the end of 2016. The head of the International Olympic Committee says steps are being taken to protect the Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Thomas Bach said the IOC would issue advice this week on how to keep athletes and visitors safe in Brazil, the worst affected country. WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan said Zika had gone “from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions”. She has set up a Zika “emergency team” after the “explosive” spread of the virus. It will meet on Monday to decide whether Zika should be treated as a global emergency.
The last time an international emergency was declared was for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed more than 11,000 people. Zika was first detected in Uganda in 1947, but has never caused an outbreak on this scale. Brazil reported the first cases of Zika in South America in May 2015. Most cases result in no symptoms and it is hard to test for, but WHO officials said between 500,000 and 1.5 million people had been infected in the country. The virus has since spread to more than 20 countries in the region.(BBC News, 2016)