U.S Scientists Confirm Link Between Zika And Rare Birth Defect
Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta have officially confirmed that the Zika virus causes a rare birth defect known as microcephaly in pregnant women and that the connection may only be the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of Zika’s impact on the brain.
In a report published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors concluded what many field researchers have long suspected—there is a direct link between Zika, microcephaly, and other severe fetal brain defects.
“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly. We are also launching further studies to determine whether children who have microcephaly born to mothers infected by the Zika virus is the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement.
“We’ve now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day. We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public,” he added.
The report noted that not all women who have Zika during pregnancy will have babies with such birth defects. Many women infected by the Zika virus during the current outbreak have delivered babies that appear to be healthy.
Like its cousins dengue and chikungunya, Zika is transmitted by mosquitos—specifically those of the Aedes species. Only about 1 in 5 people exposed to the virus actually contract the disease, which generates a range of flu-like symptoms in its victims. Zika has been endemic to equatorial regions in Africa and Asia since the 1950s, but only began appearing in the western hemisphere in 2015.
The Pan American Health Organization says nearly 200,000 people in 33 countries have been infected with Zika in the Americas so far. U.S. officials say 312 cases have been reported in the United States, but all instances involved travelers who visited affected areas in Latin America or people who had sexual contact with partners infected by the virus.
The CDC said it is not changing its current guidance as a result of the new findings. The center says pregnant women should continue to avoid travel to areas where Zika is actively spreading. Before traveling to an area with active Zika virus transmission, the CDC says, women should talk with their health-care provider and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent sexual transmission of Zika virus.