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The Zika virus, which is linked to brain abnormalities among infants, is spread by mosquitoes and has already been detected in some 23 countries in North and South America.
“The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika, from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions. The increased incidence of microcephaly is particularly alarming, as it places a heart-breaking burden on families and communities,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told a briefing of international medical experts.
Reuters quoted Marcos Espinal, head of communicable diseases at the WHO-affiliated Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), as saying that between three and four million people could contract Zika in the Americas.
Another PAHO official, Sylvain Aldighier, gave the same forecast during a press briefing in Geneva late on Thursday.
Brazil has been particularly hard hit by the Zika virus. Nearly 4,000 cases have been reported since October 2015 and the government has mobilized its military to combat the disease.
However, most may not know that they have contracted the virus because anout 20 per cent get sick, but their symptoms are so mild they may be overlooked, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
On Thursday, US medical authorities said three new cases had been reported in New York City, bringing the total in the country to 31 so far.
Although WHO said that the Zika virus would not affect Canada or Chile, health officials in the Canadian capital said they had detected three cases in the country.
Health Minister Jane Philpott said that all three people had contracted the disease while traveling abroad. Nevertheless, she said the dangers of the virus spreading in Canada were likely low.
WHO officials are expected to meet on Monday in Geneva to determine whether the outbreak of the Zika virus can be classified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies