The Zika virus, borne by mosquitoes, has been linked to a surge in microcephaly in newborn babies.
It’s advice that you don’t usually hear – health officials in Brazil telling women not to get pregnant, if they’re thinking about it. An outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to a surge in newborn “microcephaly,” particularly in the tropical northeast region. More than 2,400 cases have been reported throughout the country, with the vast majority in the northeast.
Microcephaly results in babies being born with unusually small heads, measuring less than 32 centimetres (12.6 inches) around. The brain develops abnormally during pregnancy and also fails to grow properly after birth. Microcephaly can result in serious developmental delays and, sometimes, early death.
The Zika virus originated in Africa; it was first found in Uganda in the 1940s. Its recent arrival in South America has alarmed many people, and is suspected to have been brought to Brazil by South Pacific or Asian tourists during the World Cup games in 2014. The virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in tropical climates and even lives in certain pockets of the United States.
It’s difficult for doctors to detect if pregnant women are infected, since the symptoms are very subtle – skin rash, headache, achy joints – and are often misdiagnosed as other things, such as food allergies. There is no vaccine to prevent microcephaly, nor is there a treatment for it, although early intervention with supportive therapies can improve a child’s development and quality of life (Mayo clinic).
Brazilian health officials are urging all citizens to combat the root cause of the epidemic by eliminating any standing water that could breed mosquitoes. Pregnant women are urged to slather on insect repellent and stay indoors as much as possible; and any women who are considering pregnancy are urged to hold off until the epidemic is better understood and controlled.