By LUCAS LEWIS, Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has officially declared the first major region in the world to be hit by the world’s most lethal Zika virus, with a new coronavirus epidemic threatening to spread far beyond the region.
The declaration issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives U.N. health experts a heads-up on the outbreak of the virus that has devastated Latin America and the Caribbean.
The region is expected to become a “global epicenter” in the coming weeks, according to the declaration, which says the region is already facing the “world’s most devastating pandemic” and is the “most vulnerable region in terms of the human and financial cost.”
The declaration, part of an effort to improve communication and information among nations in response to the Zika pandemic, was the first to make clear the virus’s impact on the region, which has seen more than 200,000 new cases since March, when a U.K. doctor announced she had tested positive for the virus.
There have been at least 2,300 confirmed cases and more than 17,000 deaths, according the World Health Organization.
That includes 3,879 deaths in Brazil, and more deaths in Paraguay, Uruguay, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
The outbreak is now in its second phase in the region after a second wave of cases began in the U, UK, France and Brazil.
Brazil, the world top producer of Zika, has the world at the forefront in fighting the virus, which the World Bank says could infect more than 2.8 million people this year, more than double the number who died in 2015 from the virus itself.
Brazil has said it is already seeing the effects of the pandemic and its impact on agriculture and on the country’s economic health.
It says the country will need at least $200 billion in aid to stem the spread of the new virus.
The U. S. has pledged more than $1 billion to help Brazil with its response to Zika, and the World Trade Organization has said a global financial embargo against Zika imports could be imposed if the outbreak continues.