The National Institutes of Health has officially declared that the Zika virus outbreak is at pandemic levels, as the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned that the virus could infect four million people in the months ahead.
The virus has spread to at least 23 countries so far, including the U.S., with 31 cases in eleven states over the last few months.
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The virus, first discovered in the Zika Forest in Uganda in the 1940s, is linked to serious birth defects.
“Questions abound,” WHO director Margaret Chan said. “We need to get some answers quickly.”
The organization will convene an emergency meeting on Monday to plan its response.
The Zika virus, which is linked to children being born with small heads, poses several challenges. Diagnostic tests are imperfect. There’s no treatment and no vaccine.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious diseases branch of the National Institutes of Health, says the outbreak is a pandemic.
“You have multiple countries in South America and in the Caribbean, so by anybody’s definition that would be considered a pandemic,” Fauci told CBS News.
There’s concern the virus will eventually be found in mosquitoes in the U.S.
“If you have this much Zika in South America and the Caribbean, sooner or later we’re going to see a local transmission,” he said.
Fauci said controlling mosquitoes that could carry Zika is key, and the United States has one big advantage.
“Most of the United States goes through a real winter and that’s very, very important in containing mosquito-borne viruses,” he said.
Ana Palazzo, 35, is pregnant with twins. Two months ago, she cut short a trip to Brazil and returned to New York.
“I want my babies to be safe and I was very anxious about it,” Palazzo told CBS News. “I didn’t feel safe there.”
There are still a lot of unknowns and the healthcare community is watching the virus carefully.