WHO Zika Virus Update: Outbreak Quickly Spreading in Latin America

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Jan 29, 2016 05:22 AM EST

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JANUARY 28: Health workers fumigate in an attempt to eradicate the mosquito which transmits the Zika virus on January 28, 2016 in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. Two two-man teams were fumigating in the city today. Health officials believe as many as 100,000 people have been exposed to the Zika virus in Recife, although most never develop symptoms. In the last four months, authorities have recorded around 3,500 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. (Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) declares that the Zika virus outbreak is spreading rapidly.

In a recent press release, the international agency declares the alarm for Zika as "extremely high."

"The situation today is dramatically different. Last year, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively. As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region," WHO stated.

The release explained that the virus was first discovered in 1947 from a monkey in the Uganda's Zika forest. The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same ones that carry dengue and yellow fever. It mainly affected monkeys at that time and humans weren't as affected as in the present.

The first documented outbreak of the virus was in 2007 in the tropical areas of the Pacific and then from 2013-2014.

The virus is linked to the influx of babies with microcephaly or small heads. While there is no strong evidence yet, it is suspected that it can cause birth malformations and neurological syndromes in babies via women who were bitten by the mosquito while pregnant.

There is currently no vaccine or treatment for Zika and WHO is concerned about it. Travel advisories and warnings have been issued especially for pregnant women who live in affected Latin countries or those who plan to visit, according to Fox News Latino. Brazil, one of the affected Latin countries is conducting research about the virus. Information may come in a couple of months, the outlet reports.

Additionally, officials have recommended women from affected Latin countries to postpone pregnancy until the Zika virus outbreak is contained.

Time reports that most of the countries affected by Zika have very strict anti-abortion laws. Only Mexico, Panama and Colombia allow women to have an abortion because of fetal impairments while French Guiana, Guyana, and Uruguay are the only three countries that have legalized it. Despite the outbreak, the government will uphold the anti-abortion laws in most affected countries.

"You're asking women to make a choice that sounds logical from a health perspective, but it's not a real choice," said Tarah Demant of the Identity and Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International. "It's putting women in an impossible place, by asking them to put the sole responsibility of public health on their shoulders by not getting pregnant, when over half don't have that choice."

Additionally, access to sexual health information and contraceptives are hard to come by in Latin America. What's worse is that sexual violence against women is rampant.

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