Yikes! I don't know about you, but I had never heard of the zika virus until this week. It is rare enough that the computer's spelling autocorrect feature makes it very hard even to type it. But this is serious stuff, causing potential birth defects in children of mothers who have the virus during pregnancy. BBCNews reports that Brazil has been especially hard hit.
Brazil says the number of babies born with suspected microcephaly or abnormally small heads since October has now reached nearly 4,000.
In the worst affected area, about 1% of newborns have suspected microcephaly [a smaller than normal heads, which may produce a variety of lifetime deficits for the child].
The Brazilian authorities believe the increase is caused by an outbreak of Zika virus. Just 150 babies were born with microcephaly in 2014.
The brain condition can be deadly or cause intellectual disability and developmental delays.The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue and chikungunya. A background story from BBC indicates that the disease was first identified in Uganda in 1947, so it too is out of Africa, just like Ebola and a lot of diseases, along with all humans. It is not clear yet why this popped up so suddenly in Brazil late last year, and is now spreading in the region.
This problem with this particular mosquito is that it tends to be out during the day, so bednets (used against malaria-carrying mosquitos) are less useful. It is much more difficult to avoid being bitten. As a consequence, governments throughout Latin America are encouraging women to postpone pregnancies. So, it will be interesting to monitor contraceptive utilization and birth rates in Latin America over the next year or two.