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WHO expects Zika virus to spread through Americas, except Canada and Chile

The UN's health agency has warned the Zika virus is likely to spread throughout the Americas - with the exception of Canada and Chile. The virus is suspected of causing birth defects.

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Watch: WHO spokesman explains Zika virus dangers

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday that the mosquito-borne Zika virus is expected to spread to all countries in the Americas - with the exception of Canada and Chile.

Speaking in Geneva, Director General of the WHO Margaret Chan said she was "very concerned" by the outbreak and by the possibility that it could lead to "neurological syndromes" - although she gave no further details.

Cases in Brazil

The virus is suspected of causing brain damage to babies born in Brazil. Since October, 3,500 babies in the country have been diagnosed with microcephaly, a debilitating condition which causes the heads of newborn babies to be smaller than normal. This results in abnormalities including disruption of motor skills, speech and mobility.

Of the cases in Brazil, 49 babies died from congenital malformations. Of these five have been linked to the Zika virus.

While Brazil has seen the largest number of cases in the Americas, Zika has also been detected in Colombia, El Salvador (photo of fumigation) and Panama. The virus was detected in

three people in New York

last week.

Zika has been compared to a

mild form of dengue fever

but no medicine or vaccine exists to treat the virus which causes symptoms including rash, fever, pink eye and joint pain. The only cure known so far is rest.

The WHO advised

women who plan to travel

to areas where the virus has been detected to consult healthcare providers before traveling and afterwards.

Virus origins

The virus was first reported in Africa, Asia and the Pacific before moving to the Americas last year. It has spread to some 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Brazil has been the hardest hit.

Zika can be transmitted through blood and has been isolated in human semen.

The WHO said more evidence was needed before it was known if the virus could be sexually transmitted.

jm/jil (Reuters, EFE)

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