The mosquito-borne Zika virus is sweeping through the southern Americas, namely Brazil, and has been shown to be linked to the rare birth defect microcephaly, a condition that causes newborns to be born with shrunken heads and severe disabilities, according to PBS Newshour. The World Health Organization said on Thursday, Jan. 28, that the Zika virus could possibly infect up to 4 million people this year. Since the Zika outbreak first emerged in Brazil in May 2015, the country has reported around 4,000 cases of microcephaly, whereas before 2015, the country had fewer than 200 cases per year, PBS reported.
Dr. Camilla Ventura, a Brazilian doctor working with 130 infants who were born with microcephaly associated with exposure to the virus in utero, told ABC News that the disease has been terrifying patients and doctors alike. The ophthalmologist at the Altino Ventura hospital in Rio de Janeiro said, “This was the first time we related Zika virus to microcephaly,” ABC reported.
It is not only infants who suffer the effects of the Zika virus, but also the mothers and women of childbearing age. ABC News reported that in the same city where Ventura practices, Rio de Janeiro, a 21-year-old woman named Jade Miranda contracted the disease in October 2015.
She told ABC that a rash covered her face, neck and chest, and she “…started having a fever sensation, without a fever at this point. My eyes got irritated… It was very strange, but since I was alone and my parents were out, I decided to visit a doctor.” Miranda was diagnosed with the Zika virus, and although she was not pregnant, she began to also experience extreme fatigue. “I couldn’t move or close my hands very well and my legs felt weak,” she told ABC.
The officials for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention confirmed 31 reported cases in the U.S., but all are linked to traveling. The CDC also states that the chance of having a local outbreak of Zika virus on U.S. soil is low. Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, stated that actions need to be taken to prevent more Zika outbreaks; he proposed that proaction would achieve better results than reaction.According to Gostin, if the Zika virus is found to contribute to the development microcephaly in newborns, measures are crucially needed to prevent women of childbearing age from infection.
Authorities have been criticized for not taking earlier actions to prevent the Zika virus outbreak. A similar mistake had led to the outbreak of Ebola in 2014. Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, said the actions taken in the U.S. are in accordance to the level of threat here. Mosquitoes are not able to survive the current weather in North America, therefore the risk of Zika transmission by mosquitoes is low for now, but with the upcoming changes in temperature, the U.S. would be on alert. Earnest also stated that, it is important for the public to be educated about the risks of Zika virus.
Editor’s Note: Information from ABC News, PBS Newshour and the White House was used in this report.