Suspected links between the Zika virus and two neurological disorders, microcephaly in babies and Guillain-Barre syndrome, should be confirmed within weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
A sharp increase in birth defects in Brazil has triggered a global health emergency over the mosquito-borne virus and spurred a race to develop a vaccine and better diagnostic tests.
The WHO said U.S. government scientists and an Indian biotechnology firm were currently frontrunners in the race to develop a vaccine and for the first time it advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to Zika-infected areas.
"It seems indeed that the link with Zika (and microcephaly) is becoming more and more probable, so I think that we need a few more weeks and a few more studies to have this straight," Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, told a news briefing.
Studies of pregnant Latin American women who are confirmed as having had the Zika virus and due to deliver their babies soon should yield evidence, Kieny said, adding data was also being collected from studies in French Polynesia and Cape Verde.
Kieny said areas hit by the Zika virus had also seen increased cases of the neurological disease Guillain-Barre, adding: "The direct causality has still to be demonstrated but the association in time and in location seems to be clear."
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