The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has harmed thousands of babies born in Brazil, will likely spread to all but two countries in North, Central and South America, the World Health Organization warns.
Transmission is probable because the Aedes mosquitoes, which spread the virus, populate the entire region except for Canada and continental Chile. Also, the “population of the Americas had not previously been exposed to Zika and therefore lacks immunity,” according to a WHO statement released Sunday.
Meanwhile, organizers of the Summer Olympics 2016 in Brazil said they’ll be on high alert to prevent Zika transmission.
According to the Associated Press, the committee plans daily inspections of the Olympic and Paralympic sites to seek out stagnant waters where Zika-spreading mosquitoes could breed. The games are scheduled for Aug. 5-21.
“Rio 2016 will continue to monitor the issue closely and follow guidance from the Brazilian Ministry of Health,” the committee said in a statement.
Since last May, 21 countries and territories in the Americas have reported cases of Zika, which is linked to a brain disorder called microcephaly. Babies with the condition have abnormally small heads, resulting in developmental issues and, in some cases, death.
Preventing mosquitoes from breeding, and protecting yourself from mosquito bites, is the best protection, the WHO said.
The situation has led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand a recent travel advisory. Pregnant women are warned to avoid trips to Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The agency also recommended screening for women who have recently traveled to these places while pregnant.