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WHO Expects Zika to Spread throughout the Americas

Update Date: Jan 25, 2016 09:37 AM EST
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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that based on how the Zika virus has been moving throughout Central and South America, the United Nations health agency expects the outbreak to reach all but two countries in the Americas.

"Aedes mosquitoes -- the main vector for Zika transmission -- are present in all the region's countries except Canada and continental Chile," the WHO statement read according to CNN.

A case of the virus has not been reported within the United States so far. There were two cases of Zika in Americans who had traveled outside of the U.S and returned infected.

Travelers, especially women who are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant, are advised to avoid regions where the virus has predominately been reported after Brazilian authorities and experts with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found strong evidence that an infection could lead to a dangerous birth defect known as microcephaly, which occurs when an infant is born with an abnormally small head. Microcephaly can lead to mental retardation and death.

The virus has hit Brazil hardest, with a reported 3,893 cases believed to be microcephaly in 2015 alone. The virus has also been confirmed in 21 other countries and territories.

"Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly has not, and I must emphasize, has not been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said, reported by Reuters. "An increased occurrence of neurological symptoms, noted in some countries coincident with arrival of the virus, adds to the concern."

The 21 countries and territories that travelers are advised to avoid are: 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.

The CDC added that women who are traveling or have traveled to these regions should get tested for the virus. For those who plan on traveling to these areas, they should discuss the potential risks involved with their primary care doctors.

There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the virus, which is usually mild. The best form of prevention is to avoid areas where mosquitos tend to be more popular. People can also wear layers of clothing and use bug spray repeatedly.

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