BEIJING, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to convene an Emergency Committee Monday to address the spread of the mysterious virus causing the Zika disease, as health experts warned that an outbreak is ballooning at an "extremely alarming" rate.
The Zika disease has been linked with a birth defect known as microcephaly, which sees children born with abnormally small brains, as well as a neurological syndrome that can cause paralysis.
Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, said board members would meet on Monday to establish if the Zika virus should be declared an international emergency.
And an official at the WHO office for the Americas, where the disease has spread to 23 countries in a matter of months, said we can "expect three to four million cases."
Here are 10 facts one may need to know about the Zika virus.
1. What is Zika virus?
The Zika disease is caused by a virus transmitted by aedes egyptus, the mosquito that carries the virus which could be found in Southern Europe, Africa and the southern United States. There is additional concern that aedes albopictus, the highly aggressive tiger mosquito, could become a vector for the Zika virus.
2. What are the common symptoms?
The Zika virus could cause a mild illness. Common symptoms of infection with the virus include mild headaches, maculopapular rash, fever, malaise, conjunctivitis, and joint pains, which normally last two to seven days.
3. What has Zika to do with microcephaly?
A group of Brazilian doctors found a link between Zika and the rising number of babies born with microcephaly in the country.
Microcephaly refers to abnormally smaller head for new born babies. It may lead to developmental delays and often comes with other health conditions, like sight and heart congenital diseases.
Health authorities found out that many Brazilian women who had babies with microcephaly had been infected with the Zika virus in the early months of their pregnancies. This caused an uproar among the country's female population and prompted some women to postpone their plans to get pregnant in the near future.
4. How to treat the Zika disease?
Usually, the Zika virus disease is relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People affected with the Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, medical care and advice should be sought immediately.
5. Is there a vaccine or cure?
As of 2016, no vaccine, preventative drug or specific treatment is available. But work is underway towards developing a vaccine for the Zika virus. However, scientists say it may take several years before the vaccine could be rolled out. The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
6. How widespread is the outbreak of the Zika virus in the Americas?
The WHO said Zika cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the Americas in the current outbreak.
Brazil has been the nation most affected. Over 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been identified in Brazil. So far, 270 of the cases have been officially confirmed to have links to the Zika virus, and further testing is underway.
Other nations and territories include Barbados, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
7. Where did the Zika virus originate?
Outbreaks of the Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Southern Asia and Western Pacific. According to WHO statistics, the virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys and was first identified in people in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania.
Recent outbreaks of the Zika virus were first reported from the Pacific in 2007 and 2013 (Yap and French Polynesia respectively), and from the Americas (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde) in 2015.
8. What measures has the international community taken to prevent the spread of the Zika disease?
In January 2016, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a level 2 travel alert for people traveling to regions and certain countries where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing. The CDC also suggested that women thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their physicians before traveling.
Governments or health agencies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and the EU soon issued similar travel warnings.
In Colombia, Minister of Health and Social Protection Alejandro Gaviria Uribe proposed a prevention of pregnancy for eight months, while Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have made similar proposals.
Brazil also announced plans to prevent the spread of the Zika virus during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
9. What's the difference between Zika and Ebola?
Unlike Ebola, Zika does not spread from person to person, has a low mortality, and does not kill healthcare workers. Therefore, it warrants a different response, according to a commentary published Friday by a British think tank Chatham House.
Although some lessons from the Ebola outbreak can be applied, the recent spread of the Zika virus presents a different challenge and needs a different response, said the authors of the commentary.
10. Should we panic?
WHO Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward warned that though the Zika virus is currently circulating at a very high intensity in the Americas, gaps remain regarding the situation on the ground.
"With respect to China and Asia, at this moment we don't have any official notification of the Zika virus in that area," he said, adding he did not know what would be the required timeframe, or indeed the feasibility, of developing a vaccine.