WHO has warned that the number of people infected with Zika virus could be at least 5 million globally, and warned that there could be even more deaths.
“There could be 5 million people infected and there could also be even 10 million people in countries where there is transmission,” said WHO spokesman Peter Steudtner during a briefing on Friday.
“So that’s the danger.
The risk is so huge.”WHO, the United Nations and the World Health Organization all say the Zika virus is currently in a low state of containment.
WHO says there have been around 100 confirmed cases in Brazil, while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are currently more than 4,000 cases reported in the country.
But Steudtson says the figure could be much higher as many people may have travelled to areas where transmission is possible.
“It could be a number that we do not yet know, and it could be significantly higher,” he said.
“We cannot say right now that there is a huge risk to the world, but there is some risk.”WHO said it was still not sure if the outbreak in Brazil has reached a critical mass, or if it is simply a case of a “lack of control”.
“The situation in Brazil is a critical one, and as the epidemic grows, we are likely to see more and more cases,” Steudttner said.WHO has been working closely with Brazil’s health authorities since early January to investigate whether the country’s Zika crisis has reached critical mass.
But on Friday, the head of the WHO’s emergency committee, Dr John Coe, said it would be difficult to establish if the situation was at a critical level.
“The question of whether the outbreak is at a state of critical mass is still open,” he told reporters.
“But it will be difficult, if not impossible, to definitively say if it’s not at a stage where it will need to be stopped.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has already classified the Zika outbreak as a probable carcinogen, a potentially deadly disease that poses a risk to health and the environment.
“While we are hopeful that the current epidemic will be brought under control, this cannot be assured until the situation is in a more controlled and monitored manner,” Dr Coe said.
But Dr Coyce added: “We must also be vigilant in terms of public health, and we must also take a very active approach to surveillance.”