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UN Warns Zika Virus 'Spreading Explosively' in the Americas


The U.N. World Health Organization declared the Zika virus is "spreading explosively" in the Americas and announced a team of experts will meet Monday to determine whether to classify the outbreak as an international public health emergency.

The last time the WHO made such a move was during the Ebola outbreak, which claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people.

The Zika risk has gone "from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions," according to Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director general.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning to all pregnant women, advising them to avoid travel to affected areas.

Watch CBN News Medical Reporter Lorie Johnson's interview with Operation Blessing's Keffenie Quezada about how that organization is offering relief to areas affected by the Zika outbreak.

Zika has been linked to birth defects in babies born to women who contracted the virus during pregnancy. Those birth defects include microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and brain damage, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis.

Currently, the Zika outbreak is concentrated in 25 Latin American and Caribbean nations, with the epicenter in Brazil, where in just the last three months nearly 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly.

The usual number is about 100 per year. Other affected areas include Mexico, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Martinique, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela and Columbia.

The virus usually goes undetected. Most people don't exhibit any symptoms and recover within days without incident. Those who do exhibit symptoms notice mild fever, headache and eye redness.

Zika is transmitted through mosquito bites. It's believed humans can not directly transmit it to other humans. However, mosquitoes can carry it from person to person.

Although a vaccine is in development, health officials say it could be years before it is ready for use. Therefore, the only protection against getting the virus is to avoid being bitten by an infected mosquito.

CBN's Operation Blessing International, one of the largest charities in America, has launched efforts to combat the Zika virus outbreak in Central America and the Caribbean with concentrated efforts in El Salvador and Haiti.

According to health officials in El Salvador, the country has confirmed 492 cases of Zika. Officials are advising all women of reproductive age to delay pregnancy until 2018 over concerns about birth defects resulting from the virus.

In El Salvador, Operation Blessing has purchased more than 1,250 mosquito nets that are being distributed by teams of volunteers to pregnant women in order to reduce the risk of microcephaly.

The charity has also partnered with the Ministry of Health to provide funding for the government's fumigation efforts in areas identified to have the greatest amount of Zika cases and other mosquito-borne illness.

Additional planned efforts for El Salvador include the purchase of a portable prenatal ultrasound machines that will be shipped from the USA and used to help monitor pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika virus, as well as mass distributions of pain relief medicine and mosquito spray.

Further, Operation Blessing is partnering with the Mayo Clinic's Program for Underserved Global Health (PUGH) to create a public service announcement that will educate the public about the Zika virus - specifically, who is considered high risk and how to avoid getting infected. The PSA will air on local media in El Salvador.

Operation Blessing is also exploring the possibility of setting up a fish hatchery to rear native Gambusia minnows, which eat mosquito larva and are used globally to combat mosquito-borne diseases.

Operation Blessing has used Gambusia to great success in post-Katrina New Orleans, where the city credited the aid group with helping to avert an outbreak of the deadly West Nile disease.

Operation Blessing El Salvador leaders are currently meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture to identify native Gambusia species in El Salvador.

In Haiti, Operation Blessing has purchased 800 treated mosquito nets, sourced in the Dominican Republic, which will be shipped to Haiti and distributed to pregnant women.

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