A birth defect called microcephaly, where babies are born with extremely small brains, has affected thousands more babies than usual this year in Brazil. The culprit may be a virus called Zika, which has no vaccine, no cure and is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Photo by US Department of Agriculture.
Brazil told women in its northeastern area to maybe not get pregnant until authorities could figure out a way to control the disease. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has now issued a travel warning for pregnant women, and women trying to become pregnant: stay away from 14 areas, including popular holiday spots in Central and South America. If you have to travel there, talk to your doctor first, and “strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip”. That includes the DEET/permethrin one-two punch we’ve mentioned before (it works against mosquitoes too).
That said, there’s an important caveat: We don’t know for sure that Zika is causing the microcephaly. That’s the leading hypothesis, though. Something is definitely going on: Brazil had 147 cases of microcephaly in 2014, but thousands in 2015. (The Zika virus may have arrived during the 2014 World Cup.) Recently, an American mother who had travelled to Brazil while she was pregnant had a microcephalic baby back home in Hawaii, and also tested positive for Zika. The CDC acknowledges that the connection hasn’t been confirmed, and says that its alert is “out of an abundance of caution”.