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The World Health Organization’s declaration will trigger funding for research.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international public health emergency after its rapid spread throughout America.

Up to four million people are infected with Brazil showing the highest number of Zika cases. There are currently no vaccinations, which means that the only preventative action one can take is using insect repellent.

While the symptoms of the virus are relatively harmless (soar joints, inflamed eyes and a fever) and usually subside after a few days, the virus is much more dangerous for pregnant women. There have been 4,00o cases of microcephaly in Brazil, a birth defect in which the babies’ brains don’t develop fully.

Although the link between Zika with this condition has not yet been scientifically proven, WHO director Margaret Chan says there is “strong evidence”.

“There is an urgent need to do more work to find out where there is a definitive association with the Zika virus. But the evidence is growing and it is getting stronger. We need a coordinated international response to get to the bottom of this.”

The Pan American Health Organization is advising pregnant women to reconsider any travel plans to South America. The warning is likely to include North and Central America in the near future.