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Zika "spreading explosively," global health experts warn


GENEVA -- The World Health Organization is warning that there could be 3 to 4 million cases of Zika virus in the Americas over the next year.

At a special meeting on Thursday, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said the virus -- which has been linked to birth defects and neurological problems -- was "spreading explosively." Health officials said the estimated number of cases is based on previous numbers of infections of dengue fever, which is also carried by mosquitoes.

The WHO announced it is convening an emergency committee on Monday to decide if the Zika virus outbreak should be declared an international health emergency.

Chan said although there was no definitive proof that Zika was responsible for a spike in the number of babies being born with abnormally small heads in Brazil, "the level of alarm is extremely high." The birth defect, called microcephaly, can result in brain damage.

A number of Zika patients in Brazil have also developed a rare autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause at least temporary paralysis.

"This disease needs a vehicle to spread, if we can control the vehicle we can minimise the impact," said the WHO of the mosquito-borne virus. "This is going to go everywhere, we should assume that. We should act on that."

"The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions," Chan added. "The increased incidence of microcephaly is particularly alarming, as it places a heart-breaking burden on families and communities."

Speaking Thursday on "CBS This Morning," Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called mosquitoes "the most murderous animal on Earth."

Fauci said, however, that he did not expect to see a major Zika outbreak in the U.S.

WHO last declared an international emergency over the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which ended up killing more than 11,000 people.

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