ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The World Health Organization said today it no longer considers the Zika epidemic a global public health emergency. But as NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports, WHO says the threat the virus poses to pregnant women and babies is not going away anytime soon.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Back in January, Zika shocked the world. Babies in Brazil were born with extremely small heads, a condition called microcephaly. And it looked like a mosquito-borne virus was the culprit. WHO's director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said this was a first.
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MARGARET CHAN: The possibility that a mosquito bite could be linked to severe fetal malformations alarmed the public and astonished scientists.
DOUCLEFF: As a result, WHO declared a public health emergency. And scientists from all over the world came together to figure out what was happening. They worked fast and quickly showed that Zika can cause severe prenatal brain damage and other birth defects like blindness and deafness.
Now that the link between Zika and microcephaly is better understood, WHO says the response to the epidemic needs to change. It's no longer an emergency situation. Instead, Dr. Pete Salama says, it's clear, Zika is a chronic problem.
PETE SALAMA: It's really important that we communicate this very clearly. We are not downgrading the importance of Zika. In fact, by placing this as a longer-term program of work, we're sending the message that Zika is here to stay. And WHO's response is here to stay in a very robust manner.
DOUCLEFF: In other words, Zika is still spreading. Just this week, Argentina reported its first case of Zika-linked microcephaly. And Florida continues to report cases of Zika being caught inside the state. Dr. Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says pregnant women and their partners still need to pay attention to where they go.
THOMAS FRIEDEN: Regardless of how WHO defines this, Zika is unprecedented. And it's an extraordinary risk for pregnant women. That's why it's important that pregnant women not travel to places where Zika is spreading.
DOUCLEFF: That includes countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, parts of Southeast Asia and neighborhoods in Miami. Frieden says these travel restrictions will likely be the new normal for a while, at least until we have a vaccine, which will likely take a few years. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.