"The level of alarm is extremely high", said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, at a recent meeting of the body's executive in Geneva discussing the threats posed by the Zika virus.
"[The mosquito-borne disease] is now spreading explosively... as of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the [Americas] region."
Of more immediate concern to those in PNG and surrounds are the cases reported recently in Vanuatu, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. Cases have been confirmed in Vanuatu from May last year onwards.
With no vaccine or treatment available, and up to 80 percent of those affected displaying no symptoms, it is extremely difficult to estimate the spread and potential future effect of the disease with any accuracy. Marcos Espinal, an infectious disease expert with WHO, warned that numbers are expected to be between "three to four million cases" - but could give no time frame at this stage.
The major concern is the potential for severe birth defects, as seen in a severe outbreak in Brazil. The virus may be transmitted throuh sex as well as mosquitoes, hence the concern for developing countries with less stringent birth control methods. Ms Chan stated in Geneva that whilst there in not yet a definitive link between Zika infection and birth defects such as hydrocephalus, it is "strongly suspected.
The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions", Ms Chan said.
The Australian based Travel Health Advisor gives frequent updates for countries affected by the Zika Virus, alongside Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus, the latter of which include Samoa and PNG. The US Centre for Disease Control also has excellent advice for travellers and residents who deal with mosquito-borne diseases.