The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the Zika virus causes microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which an infant is born with an abnormally small head and under developed brain.
CDC scientists reached that conclusion after reviewing research, including medical records from Brazil, where cases of mircocephaly increased in the wake of a Zika virus outbreak. The link had been strongly suspected, but now that it has been established, health officials say it clears the way for action.
“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. “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.”
Frieden said the evidence backs up the agency's previous advice to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid the Zika virus, which is spread both by mosquitoes and sexual transmission.
No smoking gun
The CDC scientists say there was no single medical “smoking gun” that established the conclusive link between microcephaly and Zika. Instead, they say it was the mounting evidence from a recent flurry of research, along with established scientific criteria.
But while one question about the virus has been answered, scientists are still addressing other questions about the disease and its prevention. There have only been a few Zika cases recorded so far in the U.S., all involving people who returned from international travels after having contracted it.
As seasonal warm weather returns to all areas of the U.S., so will mosquitoes, and health officials are worried that the U.S. will experience more Zika virus cases. In February, Richard Duhrkopf, associate professor of biology at Baylor University, said there is no question that the virus will spread in the U.S. this summer.
Duhrkopf, a mosquito expert, said the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, main carriers of the virus, are common in the U.S., especially in southern states.
What to do
For consumers, Duhrkopf offers these tips for minimizing mosquitoes' presence around the home:
- Rid your property of temporary standing water.
- Take steps to reduce breeding around permanent standing water.
- Keep artificial containers clean.
- Dry up natural containers
- Don't go outside around dusk or dawn.
- Do not let general household maintenance slide.
- Wear clothes that do not expose your skin.
- Wear repellents when you go outside.