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WHO to assess Zika impact on Olympics in Brazil

An emergency committee “will meet shortly” to examine the impact of the virus on the summer games, the WHO chief has said. Over 1.5 million people have been infected in Brazil, the country most impacted by the outbreak.

The official sign for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

World Heath Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said the UN’s public health body would convene a special committee to review the threat of Zika in Brazil and its impact on the Olympics scheduled for August.

“Given the current level of international concern, I have decided to ask members of the Zika Emergency Committee to examine the risks of holding the Olympic Summer Games as currently scheduled,” the WHO chief said in a letter to US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, published on the lawmaker’s website on Friday.

“The experts, well-versed in travel medicine, the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases, seasonal patters of mosquito-borne infections and risks communications, will meet shortly,” Chan added.

Earlier this month, 150 health experts from across the globe issued an open letter, urging the WHO to delay or cancel the games in Brazil.

However, WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander on Friday told Reuters news agency that “it is not within our mandate” to make decisions on holding the Olympic Games, amid concerns the mosquito-borne virus could threaten athletes and spectators alike.

Last week, the UN body said postponing or canceling the games would not “alter the international spread of (the) Zika virus” since it has been recorded in at least 60 countries.

Infographic illustrating issues caused by microcephaly

Zika: The risk of microcephaly

US officials in April announced the likely link between Zika and a rise in newborns with microcephaly,a rare conditions resulting in a small header than normal.

The WHO also said it investigated the connection between the increase in recorded microcephaly cases and areas impacted by the virus.

In Brazil alone, over 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika, with over 1,000 cases of microcephaly registered since the outbreak last year.

UN officials in May also warned that “there is a risk of spread of Zika virus disease in the European region.”

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