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WHO Officials To Hold Special Session On Zika Virus

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- World Health  officials will meet Monday for an emergency session on the Zika virus as the amount of cases for the mosquito-borne virus keeps growing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) committee will meet Monday, February 1st in Geneva to decide whether the outbreak should be considered a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The meeting comes as there are a growing number of cases and links to birth defects and neurological problems in South America.

Brazil reported its first case of the Zika virus in May 2015. Since then, the disease has spread to 22 other countries.

Dr. Lilian Abbo from the University of Miami told CBS4's Ted Scouten only 1 in 5 people who are infected will feel the symptoms.

"You might feel like you have the flu with a rash," said Dr. Abbo.

The virus, spread by mosquitoes, has been linked to birth defects like abnormally small heads at birth or Guillain-Barré syndrome in which the immune system attacks the nervous system.

"It has been found that a large number of babies, in some countries like Brazil, have been born with small brains, that we call Microcephaly," said Abbo.

Related: CDC Releases Guidelines For Infants Infected With Zika Virus

While the actual connection between Zika and birth defects and neurological disorders has not been confirmed, the arrival of the virus in some of the countries has resulted in a steep increase in those cases causing a strong suspicion that they are linked. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel alert  warning pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant to avoid travel to the affected countries.

A number of airlines are letting pregnant women change their flights including American, LAN, Tam, United and British Airways. Cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian are also giving them the option to reschedule.

Zika Affected Areas As Of 1/28/16
The CDC map shows the countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission (Source: CDC)

The organization says they are supporting efforts to scale up and strengthen surveillance systems in countries where the virus has spread and those in which the virus may spread.

While there is no vaccine for the virus, WHO says they will make it a priority to develop a vaccine and new tools to control the mosquito population.

So far, three cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in Florida. All were infected while traveling to and from affected countries.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the CDC issued some tips:

  • Use insect repellent that contains things like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products.
  • Treat clothing with permethrin.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use air conditioning or windows/door screens to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Reduce the amount of mosquitoes inside and outside your home or hotel by emptying standing water from containers.

Click here for more information.

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