WASHINGTON — Federal and international health officials confessed Tuesday to an encyclopedic list of unanswered questions about the fast-spreading Zika virus, which in a matter of months has become an international public health crisis.

In a bleak assessment of their ability to confront the disease, epidemiologists, public health experts, scientists and researchers told a conference on Zika of their concerns that too little was known about diagnosing the disease and about how it might be spread.

Among the unknowns: what animals other than humans can be infected with the Zika virus, how often it has been spread by sexual contact, and whether, for sure, it's the cause of devastating birth defects and other neurological disorders, as suspected.

Scientists don't know the role that climate change may have had in Zika's rapid spread through the Americas. They don't know whether the virus has changed in some way that makes it more dangerous for humans.

"We don't, at a very basic level, know whether the virus has mutated and that is a cause of the explosive epidemic potential," said Ronald Rosenberg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, the leading scientists and researchers met at the National Academy of Sciences to identify research priorities and try to hammer out a strategy for a response should an outbreak occur in the United States.

Researchers pressed health officials and world leaders to take more action, coordinate investigations and provide data that can be used to fight the virus.

Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, called the Zika virus a "wake-up call" and pressed world leaders to stop thinking of the epidemic as strictly a health issue.

The potential economic losses from a pandemic could amount to $60 billion a year, he said. Those costs are consequences of policy and behavior changes associated with fears — rational and irrational — that can lead to travel bans, quarantines and blocks on trade.

FDA sets guidelines to protect blood supply

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is recommending that U.S. blood banks refuse donations from people who have traveled to countries where the Zika virus is active in the previous four weeks, part of guidelines meant to protect the blood supply from the mosquito-borne virus.

The FDA is also recommending that establishments turn away donors who may have had sexual contact with someone who has traveled to a Zika-affected area in the past three months.— AP

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