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The World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency in response to the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is linked to brain deformities in newborns.

At an emergency meeting on Feb.1, WHO appeared to take appropriate action to avoid a repeat of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which resulted in harsh criticism over the international health organization’s slow response to the crisis that eventually killed more than 10,000 people, mostly in West Africa.

WHO’s actions regarding Zika is needed as the virus is causing concern among health officials worldwide. The illness is primarily spread through mosquito bites, but investigators have been exploring the likelihood of sexually transmission of the virus.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the Zika virus has gone from a “distant nightmare” to a “real threat” for her people. She calls on citizens to unite to combat the mosquito that transmits the virus, which researchers in Brazil have linked to a rare birth defect.

Rousseff has told women who have given birth to babies with small heads due to the microcephaly defect: “We will do everything, absolutely everything, to protect you.”

She said the government is mobilizing to develop a vaccine but insists that until it’s ready, the best course of action remains to prevent the mosquito from breeding.

In the United States, Gov. Rick Scott declared a health emergency in four counties last week after at least nine cases of the mosquito-borne illness were detected in Florida.

Health officials believe all of the cases are from people who contracted the disease while traveling to affected countries.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines Friday to prevent the sexual transmission of the Zika virus, telling men who have been to outbreak areas to use condoms during sex with pregnant women.

The agency also offers the following prevention tips:

• Currently no vaccine exists to prevent or kill the Zika virus that is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

• Avoiding mosquito bites is the best prevention measure.

• Mosquito carriers of Zika bite mostly during the daytime.

• The insects also spread the dengue and chikungunya viruses.

When traveling to countries where Zika and other viruses are spread by mosquitoes, take the following precautions:

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

• Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.

• Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

• Use Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellents, which are evaluated based on their effectiveness.

Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune


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