Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that can cause severe birth defects in the infants of infected mothers, is no longer a “global health emergency,” the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) declared Friday.
A WHO advisory panel said that while the spread of Zika remains of great importance, it should now be classed with other mosquito-borne maladies such as malaria or yellow fever, The New York Times reported.
“We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,” Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, told the newspaper. “We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the WHO response is here to stay.”
Not everyone agreed with the agency’s decision, however.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is a renowned virologist and director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He believes it’s too early to lift the state of emergency, since Zika is a seasonal disease.
“Are we going to see a resurgence in Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere? If they pull back on the emergency, they’d better be able to reinstate it,” he told the Times. “Why not wait a couple of months to see what happens?”
Fauci said that NIAID is continuing to fund research into a vaccine against Zika, which has so far been tied to thousands of cases of children being born with a birth defect known as microcephaly. The anomaly causes babies to have abnormally small skulls and underdeveloped brains.
The virus has also been linked to other issues, including fetal deaths, and babies born blind, deaf or with severely clubbed feet or permanent limb rigidity, the Times noted.
Earlier this year, mosquitoes carrying Zika virus made their first appearance in Florida, especially certain areas of Miami. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that pregnant women should not travel to the affected areas, or should take measures to avoid mosquito bites.