The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed
clusters of microcephaly and other neurologic disorders, combined with the
spread of Zika virus, an international public health emergency.
The clusters — found a year ago in French Polynesia
and in Brazil in recent weeks — are believed to be linked to the mosquito-borne
virus, but their relationship has not yet been determined.
The public health emergency determination was made by
a WHO emergency committee that WHO's director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, formed
last week. The committee met Monday in Geneva.
The committee did not find a public health
justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of
Zika, Chan said.
David Heymann, chairman of the committee and a
professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the
committee made two recommendations: surveillance for microcephaly needs to be
standardized, and research into the clusters needs to be intensified to see if
they are, as suspected, related to Zika.
Chan pointed out that the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention — which has issued a travel alert recommending that pregnant
women postpone travel to Zika-affected countries — is working closely with
Brazil and other countries to establish if there is a causal relationship with
Zika, microcephaly and Guillaine-Barre syndrome. The studies on the potential
link will start within the next two weeks.
Heymann said he was unsure how long the studies would
take to complete.
He also clarified that Zika on its own is not an
international public health emergency.