The Pan-American regional wing of the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that the African Zika virus will likely spread to all nations where its carrier mosquito lives, which includes all but two nations on the hemisphere.
“PAHO [the Pan-American Health Organization] anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found,” the group warned this week in a statement in which it reiterated warnings for pregnant women to avoid areas where the Aedes Aegypti mosquito lives. Aedes carries Dengue, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, and Zika, among other diseases. It lives mostly in tropical atmospheres, and in the United States is most common in humid, hot climates in Texas and Puerto Rico.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel warnings for a number of countries and territories on the continent, in addition to Puerto Rico. This week, the agency added Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Cape Verde, Samoa and the island of Saint Martin.
The two nations exempt from this warning due to the absence of Aedes mosquitos in the area are Chile and Canada.
The Zika virus has been described as giving a patient milder versions of the symptoms associated with Dengue fever. In pregnant women, however, Brazilian medical experts have documented links between Zika and microcephaly, an infant deformity in which children are born with skulls too small for their brains, causing significant mental damage.
“It’s a very personal decision, but at this moment of uncertainty, if families can put off their pregnancy plans, that’s what we’re recommending,” Angela Rocha, the pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Pernambuco, Brazil, told CNN in December. Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica made the same recommendation last week, following a surge in documented Zika cases.
The WHO is echoing this warning specifically to pregnant women. “Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid mosquito bites… Women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating should consult a healthcare provider before traveling and upon return,” the group says in their statement.
Brazil has registered 3,893 cases of microcephaly suspected to be related to Zika virus contamination, national newspaper O Globo reported this week. The United States, meanwhile, has registered 12 cases of Zika, all contracted in Latin America. At least two of those cases, both in Illinois, were pregnant women. The CDC has documented at least one case of an infant born with microcephaly believed to be related to Zika.
Medical professionals have documented three Zika cases in New York. One of those patients is fully recovered. “There is practically no risk of contracting the virus in New York state at this time,” Department of Health head Howard Zucker told O Globo, though concerns about those traveling abroad persist, particularly as Brazil prepares to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Brazilian officials have vowed to begin inspections for mosquitos four months before the Olympics and perform daily inspections during the event to ensure minimal threat of contracting the disease. As August falls in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, experts expect a minimized presence of Aedes mosquitos in the area.