The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday what had been suspected for months: The mosquito-borne Zika virus is the cause of microcephaly, a rare, devastating birth defect in newborns where babies are born with extremely small heads. Health officials also confirmed prenatal Zika infection causes other severe fetal abnormalities. “Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito can result in a devastating malformation,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said Wednesday. The CDC’s findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Global health officials had been operating under the assumption the virus was the cause of the fetal brain defects and have issued warnings to pregnant women to avoid areas where Zika is actively spreading. The virus was first indentified in the Americas early last year in Brazil and has spread widely throughout the Americas. “Brazil normally has an average of 163 cases of microcephaly each year,” according to the Washington Post. “But since October, officials have confirmed at least 944 cases of microcephaly or other neurological problems, according to the WHO.”
“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,” Dr. 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.”