What makes mosquitoes so dangerous? Despite their innocuous-sounding name—Spanish for “little fly”—they carry devastating diseases. The worst is malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people every year; another 200 million cases incapacitate people for days at a time. It threatens half of the world’s population and causes billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. Other mosquito-borne diseases include dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.
Brazilian health authorities are sounding the alarm about a mosquito-borne virus that they believe may be the cause of thousands of infants being born with damaged brains.
The pathogen, known as Zika and first discovered in forest monkeys in Africa over 70 years ago, is the new West Nile – a virus that causes mild symptoms in most but can lead to serious neurological complications or even death in others. Brazil’s health ministry said on Nov. 28 that it had found the Zika virus in a baby with microcephaly — a rare condition in which infants are born with shrunken skulls — during an autopsy after the child died. The virus was also found in the amniotic fluid of two mothers whose babies had the condition.
“This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research,” the ministry said in a statement on its website, according to CNN.
Brazil is investigating more than more than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly and 29 deaths of infants that occurred this year. Last year the country saw only 147 cases of microcephaly.
The situation in Brazil is so overwhelming that Angela Rocha, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist in Pernambuco, one of the hardest hit states, said in an interview with CNN that women may want to hold off on getting pregnant.
“These are newborns who will require special attention their entire lives. It’s an emotional stress that just can’t be imagined…,” Rocha said. “We’re talking about a generation of babies that’s going to be affected.”
With no vaccine, no cure, and without even a reliable diagnosis, doctors are at a loss for how to protect their patients from the Zika virus. In the past year, the mosquito-borne disease has spread throughout Latin America, sparking panic because of a possible link to microcephaly—babies born with abnormally small brains. Without more information, medical advice so far has boiled down to this: Don’t get pregnant. So say official guidelines from Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras. El Salvador has gone so far as to recommend women do not get pregnant until 2018.
But most of these Latin American countries are also Catholic, so access to birth control is often poor and abortion is flat-out banned.
Two weeks after severe flooding in Myanmar, MSF has expanded its support to the government response in Rakhine State and the Sagaing Region. Communities face elevated risk of malaria, diarrhea, water- and mosquito-borne infectious diseases, and dengue fever. http://bit.ly/1HTWXvu