The World Health Organization (WHO) recently designated the Zika virus and its suspected complications as a public health emergency of international concern. The WHO has only taken such an action three times before, signaling the severity of the outbreak. According to the Washington Post, declaring the virus a public health emergency “paves the way for the mobilization of more funding and manpower to fight the mosquito-born pathogen spreading ‘explosively’ through the Americas.” The Zika virus was first identified more than 50 years ago, and though it has been popping up in various parts since then, until now individuals have only suffered mild symptoms, such as a rash or body aches. Recently, however, the number of brain-damaged newborns associated with the virus has been increasing, causing health officials to become concerned about Zika’s impact on fetal development. The WHO estimates the virus could infect up to 4 million people by the end of 2016. In light of its severity, many people are wondering who is at risk of contracting the virus. Although most people living in the U.S. aren’t at risk of contracting the Zika virus, according to an article on CNN, people living in or traveling to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean or Pacific territories, and Central and South America are at risk of coming in contact with the Zika virus. In these areas, women who are pregnant should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using repellants, permethrin-coated clothing, long sleeves and pants, and by staying indoors (ideally in places with air conditioning) as much as is practical. Additionally, in January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory urging pregnant women to avoid travel to areas where the virus is actively spreading, with that advisory expanded to now include more than two dozen countries and territories in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The CDC reports that there have already been cases reported in the U.S., including a woman in Hawaii who delivered an infant with microcephaly after being infected with the virus in Brazil last year. Additional reported cases are expected as travelers return to the U.S. from Zika-infected areas of the world. Some experts think precautions should be taken even further. In fact, Lawrence Gostin, a public health and law expert at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post, the WHO should have issued a travel alert for pregnant women visiting Zika-affected countries and that the organization’s “failure to do so puts it at odds with the CDC’s travel warning to pregnant women.” Gostin advises women to avoid going to affected areas if they are pregnant. Because the countries most affected typically have younger populations, more women of childbearing age could be affected by the virus and its potential harm. What’s more, some of the countries infected have the world’s higher birth rates, which means that more brain-damaged newborns could be born as a result of the infection. The Chicago injury lawyers at Steinberg, Goodman & Kalish are committing to staying abreast of this changing medical crisis and will provide updates as necessary. If you have any questions, contact our office at (312) 445-9084 to schedule a free consultation with one of our Chicago accident lawyers. Steinberg Goodman & Kalish (www.sgklawyers.com) is dedicated to protecting victims and their families. We handle medical malpractice, product liability, personal injury, wrongful death, auto accidents, professional negligence, birth trauma, and railroad law matters. Contact us at (888) 325-7299 or (312) 445-9084.