The Zika virus, which is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has infected thousands in the Americas and the Caribbean, and has now been confirmed in a handful of Americans.
Here are 3 crucial facts you should know about the virus, which health officials worldwide are scrambling to control:
1. Zika may cause congenital malformations in children
Despite the fact that this mosquito-borne illness is very similar to yellow fever, West Nile virus and chikungunya, this is the first time that we have seen what appears to be a direct link to a major congenital malformation like microcephaly from this family of viruses.
While we know that viruses can affect pregnancy, most of our experiences with infections are with viruses like West Nile, which theoretically could lead to early miscarriages. Never before have we seen a variant of this type from this viral family create a major anatomical deformity with a predisposition to affect a baby’s brain. Now, in addition to requiring additional fetal development in the womb, once the child is born with microcephaly they will require lifelong monitoring and care. There is no cure, there is no treatment, and these children will suffer severe developmental and cognitive delays.
In Brazil alone, officials are reporting nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly since October. Comparatively, in the United States it’s estimated that microcephaly ranges from two to 12 babies per 10,000 live births.
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