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WHO holds Meeting to Decide if Zika should be declared a Global Health Emergency

Update Date: Feb 01, 2016 11:41 AM EST

The World Health Organization (WHO) has begun deliberations on Monday to determine whether or not Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, should be declared a global health emergency, which would trigger international action and speed up research.

The 12 experts with the United Nations health agency, who specialize in public health, epidemiology and infectious diseases, are discussing the issue via a telephone conference. A briefing is expected to be held on Tuesday afternoon.

"I have all confidence that they will declare this as a public health emergency," Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said to BBC Radio reported by Reuters.

The meeting was announced roughly one week after the WHO stated that the Zika virus, which has been linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly, is "spreading explosively" throughout the Americas. The agency added that the only two countries that will most likely not be affected by the virus are Canada and Chile.

So far, the virus has affected Brazil the most. Since the virus was first reported, Brazilian officials have had more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, which occurs when an infant is born with an abnormally small head. In response to the outbreak, President Dilma Rousseff has signed a measure that will allow officials to enter any buildings believed to breeding grounds for the mosquito and carry out eradication procedures.

Brazilian officials, as well as officials from other parts of Central and South America, have also recommended women to delay pregnancy plans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued travel warnings to these countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

Pregnant women and women who are planning a pregnancy should talk to their primary care doctors if they have traveled to a region where the Zika virus was confirmed.

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