WHO: Zika no longer a world health emergency

The World Health Organization declared Friday that Zika is no longer a world health emergency, cautioning the virus linked to devastating birth defects requires a long-term approach.

David Heymann, head of a WHO emergency committee on Zika, cited a “significant and enduring” threat from the mosquito-borne virus.

The organization said complications from the virus "remain a significant public health challenge requiring intense action."

Heymann was joined by a panel of medical experts at a news conference in Geneva to issue the new declaration. Peter Salama, executive director of the organization's emergency program, noted Zika is seasonal and expected to return.

By downgrading the emergency status for Zika, the organization will now shift to a longer-term approach for fighting the virus that has spread across Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond.

In the U.S., locally transmitted cases of the virus were found in parts of the Miami area. However, the vast majority of the more than 4,000 cases of the disease reported in the U.S. were travel-related.

The virus "is not going away," WHO said on Twitter. "Countries need to be prepared & strengthen detection & prevention, as well as care & support for people."

Nearly 30 countries have reported birth defects linked to the virus. WHO, which designated the health emergency in February, says more than 2,100 cases of nervous-system malformations have been reported in Brazil alone.

The virus continues to spread to areas where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are established, the organization noted.

Most people who are infected by the virus typically do not experience significant symptoms, but can suffer fever, rash and joint pain. The virus, however, can cause major birth defects in fetuses, including microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.


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