World Health Organization: Zika No Longer an "International" Emergency, Just a Miami One

Much to the dismay of local politicians and business leaders, the Zika virus has not left Miami Beach. Last Friday, the city's true Zika nightmare became a reality: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said pregnant women should still avoid Miami Beach during Art Basel, one of the city's biggest economic drivers every year.

Despite the fact that CDC director Tom Frieden said last month that Zika will eventually become "endemic" to this hemisphere, there is a thin silver lining: The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today it no longer considers Zika a "public health emergency of international concern."

Instead, the agency says areas with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes should treat Zika like malaria or yellow fever. The organization says the virus is no longer an "exceptional" emergency with "potentially global" reach.

In a move that might seem confusing to outsiders, WHO Zika panel chair David Heymann said removing the international warning meant that "if anything, [Zika has] escalated in importance." Rather than concentrate on containing Zika globally, the WHO will now commit significant resources to managing the disease in the areas where it already exists.

Rather than treat Zika like an emergency outbreak, the WHO says it will now combat the virus through a "sustained and dedicated" anti-Zika program focused mostly on Latin America.

But WHO doctors say today's news does not mean Zika-affected cities — such as Miami — should ignore the risk Zika poses. In fact, the WHO stressed that Zika is "here to stay" in countries like Brazil.

The organization said it originally announced a public health emergency of international concern over Zika in February, after the first major clusters of microcephaly were found in Brazil. At the time, the WHO feared that microcephaly cases could spread like wildfire around the world.

Nine months later, the WHO says that scientists now have a better handle on how Zika spreads and operates and that the world no longer needs to fear an international outbreak. For example, the WHO says it now knows Zika cases will spread seasonally in warm months, just like malaria or chikungunya.

The WHO has previously issued "international concern" warnings for swine flu in 2009, polio in 2014, and Ebola in 2014.

In Miami's case, the move is mostly a boon to the city's tourism industry: One fewer "international outbreak" warning likely means a few more people will be willing to take a flight here and hang out on the beach.

But if you're a permanent resident, don't throw out your bug spray just yet.


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