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Zika Virus Declared A Global Health Emergency; NY Offers Free Testing

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The World Health Organization has announced that the explosive spread of the Zika virus in the Americas is an "extraordinary event" that merits being declared an international emergency.

The organization warns that by next year the number of cases could reach 4 million.

MORE: 10 Facts About Zika Virus

So what does all this mean to us?

While Zika is spreading very rapidly in other parts of the world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it expects limited outbreaks of Zika here at home.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced free testing for symptomatic individuals who have traveled to countries impacted by the virus.

Also, state health officials say the mosquito blamed for infecting people with the Zika virus isn't found in New York, but they plan this spring to check related mosquitoes in New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the only U.S. cases involve people who traveled to Brazil and other places where mosquito bites have been linked to Zika infections and increased the numbers of babies born with a congenital brain and skull condition.

ZIKA INFORMATION FROM THE CDCBasics | FAQ | Info For Pregnant Women | Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment | More Info |  10 Facts About The Zika Virus

Zucker said there's no need to isolate infected people, symptoms are usually mild, including a rash and fever, and Zika can't be spread by casual human contact.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, the Health Department said there were nine confirmed cases in New York as of Friday. One of those infected is a pregnant woman.

Why is there so much concern? Because the mosquito-borne virus is spreading so rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean. On Monday, officials added Costa Rica, Curacao, and Nicaragua to the list. The WHO has declared the outbreak a global health emergency. The primary concern is that the virus infection is linked to the serious birth defect known as microcephaly.

"The clusters of of microcephaly and other neurological complications constitute an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world," said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.

Microcephaly causes babies to be born with abnormally underdeveloped brains and very small heads. So far in Brazil, more than 4,100 suspected cases have been reported.  

Chan said while the link is still not scientifically proven, there seems to be a strong relationship.

"All agree on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to understand this relationship better," she said. " ... Members of the committee agree that the situation meets the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern."

The declaration of a global health emergency allows for a coordinated international response to minimize the threat in affected countries and reduce the risk of further international spread.

The WHO also said the connection between Zika and the brain birth defect is the main reason for the health emergency. Otherwise, the agency said Zika is not a clinically significant infection, meaning it just causes a mild, flu-like illness that last less than a week.

Meanwhile, Brazil is getting very aggressive to try to stop the spread of the virus, Dr. John LaPook, CBS News' chief medical correspondent, reported. Zika. Health officials now have access to any home or building to destroy mosquito breeding grounds.

Troops are spraying insecticide to kill the Aedes aegypti mosquito that is transmitting Zika.

Pregnant woman in Brazil are taking extra precautions.

"I hope to finish my pregnancy well, and I hope for a healthy baby," said Maria Fernanda Laudisio de Lucca.

Brazil, ground zero for the crisis, is set to host the Olympic games this summer.

On Sunday at a pre-event in Rio, a wrestler for the New York Athletic Club said she's trying to keep the risk of being in Brazil in perspective.

"I think if I was pregnant, or have a child in the next month, I would be extremely uneasy about this and maybe that would have changed my decision," Adeline Gray said.

All of the U.S. cases so far have occurred in people who traveled to countries where Zika is a problem.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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