The World Health Organization on Monday declared Zika Virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
WHO also said protective measures against mosquito bites remain the most important preventive measure against the virus.
Margaret Chan, the WHO Director General, said at a press briefing in Geneva, Monday, that a coordinated international response is needed to intensify the control of mosquito and expedite development of diagnostic tests.
“I convened the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee to gather advice on the severity of the health threat associated with Zika virus,” said Dr. Chan.
“The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected.
“The causal relationship between Zika during pregnancy and microcephaly is not yet scientifically proven.
“The Committee found to public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus.
“At present, the most important protective measures against Zika virus are the control of mosquito populations, prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.”
Dr. Chan, however, advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to Zika virus-affected areas as well as protect themselves with safe mosquito repellant or long clothing.
The WHO’s position came a day after the Nigerian government advised a travel restriction of its pregnant citizens to Latin America, the worst hit region since the Zika virus outbreak began late last year.
Isaac Adewole, Nigeria’s Health Minister, said the restriction would remain in place until “the situation improves.”
Zika virus is transmitted via the bite of Aedes mosquitoes.
The viral infection has been linked with babies born with underdeveloped brains.
There is currently no vaccine or drug to stop its spread.
Dr. Chan said that lack of vaccination; rapid, reliable diagnostic tests; and absence of population immunity in newly affected countries are causes for concern.
“The (convened) experts also considered patterns of recent spread, the broad geo distribution of mosquito species that can transmit Zika virus,” she said.
“The Committee advised that the association between Zika virus and microcephaly constitutes an ‘extraordinary event.”
Outbreak in the Americas
According to updates published on the WHO website, Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus disease in May 2015.
“Since then, the disease has spread within Brazil and to 22 other countries and territories in the region,” the world health body said.
“Arrival of the virus in some countries of the Americas, notably Brazil, has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a poorly understood condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis.”