Health commissioner warns of virus linked to birth defects

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health wants expecting mothers to be aware of a virus quickly spreading across the western hemisphere. The Zika virus has been linked to birth defects and neurological problems, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds her daughter Maria Giovanna as she sleeps in their house in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Brazilian officials still say they believe there's a sharp increase in cases of microcephaly and strongly suspect the Zika virus, which first appeared in the country last year, is to blame. The concern is strong enough that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month warned pregnant women to reconsider visits to areas where Zika is present. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds her daughter Maria Giovanna as she sleeps in their house in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said the mosquito-borne virus was “spreading explosively,” Thursday, adding that while there is no definitive proof that Zika was responsible for the spike in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads in Brazil, “the level of alarm is extremely high.”

Currently, the Zika virus affects more than 20 countries, mostly in Central and South America. It’s spread by the Aedes mosquito.

Symptoms for the virus are similar to the flu – people can get a fever, red eyes, joint pain or a rash.

“It seems like every week we’re getting a list of additional countries its being found in,” Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan, MD, said.

McMahan said that while no one in the area needs to panic, pregnant women should follow what is going on with the virus.

“If you’ve recently traveled to a country and let’s say you get home and in a week you have a fever, even if you’re not pregnant, make sure you tell the doctor where you’ve been,” McMahan said. “That travel history is so important and what [doctors] can do is that helps them sort out what you might have been exposed to.”

She encourages anyone traveling to check the CDC’s travel notices, especially if they are pregnant.

“Frankly, if you’re planning on going to a country that’s affected, you might want to reschedule those plans,” McMahan said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have not been any locally transmitted Zika cases reported in the US, but there have been cases reported in returning travelers. Health officials said the number of U.S. residents diagnosed in the past year has risen to 31.

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

The WHO will have an emergency committee on Monday to decide if the Zika virus outbreak should be declared in international health emergency. The WHO last declared that kind of emergency over the 2014 Ebola outbreak West Africa.

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