WHO “Extremely Alarmed” by Zika Outbreak That Could Reach 4 Million Cases

The virus has arrived in U.S.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects the Zika virus, which is spreading through the Americas, to affect between three million and four million people, according to a Reuters report. There is no vaccine or treatment for the infection, which is related to dengue and chikungunya. Symptoms include mild fever, rash, and red eyes. An estimated 80% of infected people are asymptomatic, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.

“The level of alarm is extremely high,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told WHO executive board members at a meeting in Geneva. “As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the [Americas] region.”

Brazil’s Health Ministry said in November 2015 that Zika virus infection was linked to microcephaly in infants. Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of the fetal deformity, more than 30 times more than in any year since 2010.

Four people who had returned from travel abroad have tested positive for Zika virus in New York state, local health officials reported on January 27. Two tested positive in New York City; neither of them had severe complications. A person in Nassau County developed symptoms in August, had a mild illness, was not hospitalized, and has completely recovered. An Orange County resident who had traveled to South America tested positive, but officials offered no further information on his or her condition.

In Los Angeles County, California, a teenage girl who had traveled to El Salvador in late November tested positive for the virus but has since recovered, public health officials said. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement on January 26 that it is conducting surveillance to identify any infected travelers returning to the county.

In addition, state officials have said that a Virginia resident and an Arkansas resident who had each traveled outside the U.S. also tested positive for the virus.

Sources: Reuters; January 28, 2016; Reuters; January 27, 2016; and Reuters; January 27, 2015.