World Health Organization declares Zika virus a 'public health emergency'

DENVER, Colo. - The world's most talked about illness, Zika virus, is now a public health emergency.

The World Health Organization made the announcement Monday during an emergency meeting. The WHO has only used the term three times previously, for swine flu, polio and Ebola.

"The World Health Organization feels burned from what happened with Ebola, and for most of us, that's a very recent memory," said Dr. David Dyjack with the National Environmental Health Association. "So, I believe they want to get out in front of this Zika virus."

Dyjack, who has worked closely with CDC program directors for the past 15 years, has been tracking Zika for months, as mosquitoes continued to spread the virus through 25 countries and the Americas. Health officials are estimating up to four million infections are possible in the Americas in the next year.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have reported cases of people infected, while traveling to other countries.

With Monday's announcement, the World Health organization will direct more money to infected communities, now linking Zika to birth defects. Dyjack says all of this could have been prevented.

"I would like your audience to consider Flint, Michigan, to consider Chipotle, to consider Ebola," said Dyjack. "What do all these things have in common? They have in common where prevention is not given the attention and investment that it deserves."

He says the global response starts on the local level, with tasks like spraying for mosquitoes, wearing long sleeves, and staying indoors.

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