WHO declares international emergency for cases linked to Zika virus

map of spread of Zika virus

More than 20 countries and territories have active transmission of Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological disorders. The recent drastic uptick in the number of people affected by these conditions is cause for international concern, WHO said February 1. 


The recent spate of birth defects and neurological disorders linked to Zika virus infection constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern,” the World Health Organization declared February 1.

The link between the mosquito-borne virus and birth defects has not been scientifically proven, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a press conference, but experts advising the WHO strongly suspect a causal relationship between Zika virus and microcephaly, a condition that leaves babies with abnormally small heads.

Despite the emergency status, Chan said there was no justification for restrictions on travel to countries hit by Zika. Instead, women should focus on avoiding mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and trousers and using insect repellent and mosquito nets, she said. 

As of January 23, Brazil has reported 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly since October. 

Meghan Rosen headhsot

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine

From the Nature Index

Paid Content