A meeting among World Health Organization (WHO) officers will be held to decide whether the ongoing Zika virus outbreak across Central America should be declared an international emergency. The meeting, to be held in Geneva, will tackle ways to curb the outbreak that was linked to birth defects among infants born to mothers infected with the mosquito-borne virus.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan is tasked to convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika virus. The meeting aims to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency that can cascade through many countries worldwide.

This is amid scrutiny the health agency received because of its handling of the Ebola outbreak that ravaged through West Africa in 2014.

"WHO clearly dropped the ball responding to the Ebola crisis, it took about five months to declare Ebola in West Africa a public health emergency," Prof Peter Piot, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said.

"By any means this [Zika] is a public health emergency with the sheer numbers of people who are coming down with a flu-like syndrome, but particularly the complications," he added.

Since WHO observed the increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations linked with Zika virus, it planned to conduct the meeting since the virus moved from a mild threat to a one of alarming proportions.

Upon declaring Zika as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the outbreak will be considered a global threat wherein resources, experiments, researches and funds will be allotted in the effort to stem the outbreak.

Zika virus spurred global panic since it was linked to babies being born with a birth defect, microcephaly. This condition is characterized by a smaller head for infants that may cause serious brain defects.

WHO reports that the emergence of the virus in Brazil has been linked with a sudden increase in birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in some Guillain- Barré syndrome.

Pregnant women are recommended to postpone their travel to an area with cases of Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that returning pregnant travelers to undergo screening, testing and management.

About 80 percent of patients infected with Zika virus do not exhibit symptoms but for others, they may experience fever, rash, body pain and red eyes during the acute phase of the infection.

Photo: John Tann | Flickr 

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