The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC has stated that “there is no longer any doubt” that Zika virus infection during pregnancy is directly linked to microcephaly, a severe defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
Signs of the Zika virus, have been found in the brain tissue, spinal fluid and amniotic fluid of microcephaly babies. Most doctors and researchers agree that this confirms the link between the virus and the birth defect. The WHO believes that it’s time to move from precautionary language to more forceful language regarding the connection between Zika virus and birth defects, to get people to take action.
Brazilian scientists say that Zika could be behind more damaging neurological conditions, affecting the babies of up to a fifth of infected pregnant women. It is estimated that 1% of women who have had Zika during pregnancy will have a child with microcephaly, but as many as 20% of Zika-affected pregnancies will result in a range of other forms of brain damage to the baby in the womb. In a separate study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 29% of scans in women infected with Zika, showed abnormalities in babies in the womb, including growth restrictions and fetal death.
Zika virus, which is spread primarily through mosquito bites but can also be transmitted through sex, has been sweeping through the Americas and the Caribbean, with up to 350 confirmed U.S. cases. All U.S. cases were contracted as a result of travel to affected areas of Central and South America. The first fatality in the U.S. has been reported in Puerto Rico and was a 70year old man who developed an auto-immune disorder, a known complication of Zika virus, after he had recovered from the initial Zika infection.
Zika virus infection is a relatively mild and short-term disease, with symptoms that include mild fever, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), rash, headache, and joint pain, but secondary infections and transmissions have been linked to deaths, severe birth defects, neurological and auto-immune complications.
U.S. health officials are on alert as the summer months approach, bringing the usual increase in mosquito activity and concerns of the possibility of a Zika outbreak in the southern United States. Public health campaigns are focused on preventing mosquito bites with the use of mosquito repellent and environmental control, avoiding travel to Zika affected countries, delaying pregnancy if you live in or travel to Zika affected countries and promoting the use of condoms.