WHO Zika update reveals more "at-risk" countries

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Mosquito prevention and control in Salto, Uruguay. Photo: PAHO

Dozens more countries have been added to the list of those at risk from Zika, the virus that's been linked to birth defects and neurological complications.

The new World Health Organization (WHO) data includes countries where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is present, but where there is no sign of the virus.

The insect is considered to be the main transmitter of the disease, which has been identified in more than 80 countries to date.

Daniel Johnson reports from Geneva.

The global threat from Zika is here to stay, UN health chiefs say.

It's why the World Health Organization has added around 70 countries to the list of those considered to be "at-risk".

These are countries where there's no sign of the virus, but where there is the Aedes aegypti mosquito; it's considered to be the main carrier of the virus.

The WHO's Monika Gehner explains how the new data can help:

"Now we can assess risks more precisely. Because now even if you do not have Zika virus transmission, but if you have the Aedes aegypti mosquito you are at tisk of Zika virus transmission. And particularly nowadays when you have a lot of global travel going on."

The aim of this new WHO guidance is not to spread alarm.

Instead, it's a call to governments to do more to prevent the spread of Zika.

This requires greater surveillance of mosquito populations and research into suspected Zika infections, as well as better diagnostic techniques and updated health advice to at-risk communities and travellers.

Of the two Zika virus strains, the Asian strain is the one that's associated with developmental problems in babies, including microcephaly.

It's linked to smaller than normal head size in newborns.

To date the Asian strain has been identified in the Americas and Cabo Verde, as well as in French Polynesia, following an outbreak in 2013.

But the WHO says that there are still many gaps in what we know about Zika, and where it has left its mark.

In the meantime, hopes remain that a vaccine can be produced to protect vulnerable populations from the virus.

And although the WHO says that there are "promising candidates in the pipeline", the health agency believes that it may be two to three years – or longer – before any breakthroughs are announced.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’36″

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