WHO: Zika virus ‘spreading explosively,’ ‘level of alarm extremely high’
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The World Health Organization announced Thursday that it will convene an emergency meeting to try to find ways to stop the transmission of the Zika virus — which officials said is "spreading explosively" across the Americas.
"The level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly, " Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said in Geneva in a briefing for member countries.
The WHO said the pathogen, which was virtually unheard of in the region a year ago, is spreading so fast it could infect as many as 3 to 4 million people within 12 months. Chan said those numbers as well as the severity of the possible conditions that are being reported -- from brain defects in children to paralysis in adults -- make the situation dramatically different from what epidemiologists have seen with the virus in the past.
Health officials said 23 countries are affected by mosquitoes that are spreading the virus locally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the United States has 31 confirmed cases in 11 states and the District of Columbia. All are travel-related, the CDC's Lyle Petersen said, and "this number is increasing rapidly." The country also has 20 additional cases because of local transmission in U.S. territories — 19 in Puerto Rico and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.