Birth defect Zika virus “spreading extensively.”

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Zika-virus-jpg-300x169World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan convened an emergency meeting to discuss the Zika virus which she said was “spreading explosively.”

The international health group has now declared that the recent outbreaks of the virus in South America qualify as an international health emergency.

One WHO scientist said the Americas could see up to 4 million cases of Zika in the next year.

The emergency conclave comes in response to the rapidly changing profile of a previously known virus which has recently changed it profile.

“The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions. The increased incidence of microcephaly (an abnormal smallness of the head, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development) is particularly alarming, as it places a heart-breaking burden on families and communities,” Chan said.

The Zika virus was first detected in 1947 and for decades only caused mild disease, but Chan noted that “the situation today is dramatically different.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Zika virus is now in more than 20 countries, mostly in Central and South America. It is spread by the same mosquito that spreads dengue and yellow fever.

While so far the Zika virus’ effects on older victims is mild, the changing nature of the virus along with the lack of any effective vaccine or cure makes it dangerous.

Chan cited four main reasons why WHO was “deeply concerned” about Zika: The possible link to birth defects and brain syndromes, the prospect of further spread, a lack of immunity among people living in the newly affected areas and the absence of vaccines, treatments or quick diagnostic tests for the virus.

Now is the time to raise your prevention game, especially if you are pregnant or have young children. Keep your mosquito population down, wear repellent, spray early and often. Monitor all bites. This virus has mutated to become very deadly. It’s so bad that El Salvador is advising all women in the country not to get pregnant until 2018. In Brazil, more than a million people have been infected and nearly 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly. Remember, the disease is now in the Caribbean, North and South America. Be careful when the weather warms and the mosquitos return.

Click the arrows on the video below to make it full screen. Hit ESC when you’re done. The video shows the geographic spread of Zika to date.