Evidence mounts linking Zika virus to birth defects

The WHO last month advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to areas where Zika is spreading

Baku. 5 March. REPORT.AZ/ Evidence mounted on Friday linking Zika to the birth defect microcephaly, and the United Nations health agency set a review of travel advice related to the outbreak of the virus while U.S. officials planned strategy to control mosquitoes that spread it.

Report informs citing the foreign media, the virus is capable of rapidly infecting and harming developing fetal brain cells, scientists said in a study that provided insight into how the virus might cause microcephaly in fetuses.

The researchers said the study, published on Friday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, does not prove a direct causal link between Zika and microcephaly in newborns, a condition defined by unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems. But they said it does identify where the virus may be inflicting the most damage in developing fetuses.

Zika has been linked to numerous cases of microcephaly in Brazil, where the current outbreak began. The virus is spreading rapidly in Latin America and in Caribbean nations, prompting the World Health Organization last month to declare a global public health emergency.

The WHO said on Friday that there is accumulating evidence of a link between the virus and microcephaly as well as a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system.

The WHO's Emergency Committee is due to meet on Tuesday to review "evolving information" and its recommendations on travel, trade and mosquito control in what is thought to be high season for transmission of the virus in the southern hemisphere.

The WHO last month advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to areas where Zika is spreading.

Travel to Brazil has been a particular concern because the Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO's executive director for outbreaks and health emergencies, said recently published studies in the Lancet medical journal on microcephaly and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Guillain-Barre had strengthened the case that Zika is responsible.

The White House and the CDC will bring together U.S. state and local officials on April 1 for a summit at the CDC's Atlanta headquarters to urgently craft a plan to attack the hard-to-control mosquito that spreads the virus.

The White House is inviting officials involved in mosquito control and public health to discuss how best to track and control the spread of the virus and respond when people are infected.

U.S. federal health officials expect the first locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in the continental United States by June or July.

"We can't say for sure that we're not going to have a major outbreak in the United States. I do not think we will, but we will be prepared for it anyway," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at an event presented by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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