'Unprecedented Situation' in Brazil as Number of Cases of Virus-Linked Birth Defect Explodes
Health officials in Brazil have warned of an “unprecedented situation” and are even urging women in some states to avoid getting pregnant as they’ve linked a rise in babies born with a serious birth defect to a mosquito-borne viral disease.
The virus in question is Zika, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. That mosquito also carries dengue and chikungunya.
As the World Health Organization explains, Zika fever “is usually mild with symptoms that can last between two and seven days.” Those symptoms may include a mild fever, rash, and headaches. But the disease is now being linked in Brazil to microcephaly in newborns, a neurological condition in which the head is very small because of an abnormally developed brain.
In Brazil this year, there’s been a massive rise in the number of cases of microcephaly linked to the virus, prompting six states to declare a state of emergency. While last year there were a reported 147 cases of microcephaly, there have been over 2,700 cases of babies born with microcephaly this year, with a 16-percent increase reported just this week.
According to figures released Dec. 1 by the Pan American Health Organization, there’s been “a twentyfold increase [in microcephaly] in comparison to the rate observed in previous years.”
Brazil’s Health Ministry says over 1.5 million people could contract the Zika virus by the year’s end; other countries in the Americas that have reported local Zika transmission include Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and as far north as Mexico.
“This is probably the largest outbreak of Zika ever recorded,” the Wall Street Journal quotes Ann Powers, acting chief of the arboviral diseases branch at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying. “There’s a lot of concern about what it means, what the implications are, and what we can potentially do for containment and control.”
The Washington Post adds:
The country is also dealing with a dengue epidemic. “One of the reasons is climate change, according to experts.” NPR reports. “A harsh drought has been affecting Brazil, so people are storing water on their rooftops. The Aedes aegypti loves to breed in standing water in urban environments.”
Researchers with the United Nations University last year also pointed to how climate change could worsen dengue’s threat. “Changes to climate could result in increased exposure and pose a serious threat to areas that do not currently experience endemic dengue,” their report said.
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