zika Margaret Chan WHO.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Margaret Chan will visit Brazil next week to meet government and health officials amid the Zika outbreak, a spokeswoman for the UN health organization said Tuesday in Geneva.

While the virus has spread to various Latin American countries, Brazilian health authorities have reported a worrying rise in babies born with malformed heads associated with the outbreak.

During her visit from Monday to Wednesday, Chan would meet Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira and Carissa Etienne, the regional WHO director for the Americas, spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told dpa.

WHO declared the Zika outbreak a global health emergency this month because mosquitoes could spread the virus beyond the Americas, and because of the unknown link between the usually harmless fever disease and the malformations.

Unborn children are less likely to be affected by the microcephaly malformation if their mothers are infected after the sixth month of pregnancy, according to new scientific findings, Chaib said.

She added that there was no proof that the pesticide Pyriproxyfen that is used to kill mosquito larvae has caused the current spike in microcephaly cases in Brazil or previous ones in French Polynesia in 2013 and 2014.

Her comments backed a similar statement that the Brazilian Health Ministry made Monday, in reaction to a possible causal connection being drawn by a Brazilian NGO.

WHO experts have examined data by the company that makes Pyriproxyfen and had detected no influence on pregnant women, Chaib said.

If humans take in the pesticide, they excrete 90 per cent within 48 hours through their urine, she said, adding that tests with pregnant animals had not resulted in any obvious effects on their young ones.

So far there have been 41 confirmed cases of microcephaly in children in Brazil whose mothers had been infected with the virus during pregnancy. There are also 462 confirmed cases of microcephaly in total, as well as a further 3,852 suspected cases.

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