The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other fetal brain defects, according to a new report released on Wednesday, April 13.
The Zika virus was suspected as the cause for the rise of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. The virus has since spread in neighboring countries and across the globe via unsuspecting infected travelers, who may or may not show symptoms of the disease. Reported cases also showed that the mosquito-borne virus could also be spread via sexual intercourse.
"It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly," said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden 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."
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the CDC study looked at existing scientific evidence linking the Zika virus with congenital birth defects. While there is no single conclusive proof that the mosquito-borne virus is a direct cause of microcephaly in babies, the increasing number of studies clearly shows that pregnant women infected with the Zika virus have an increased risk of having a baby with microcephaly or other fetal brain defects. However, not all pregnant women infected with the virus during pregnancy will have babies with these health issues.
The agency is now focusing their efforts into determining whether the causal connection between the two is just the tip of the iceberg. More research is needed to establish the range of birth defects caused by prenatal Zika virus infection and to see the full extent of the damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems for the child. The CDC is also looking into any other factors that could influence the risk of having a baby with birth defect for Zika-infected pregnant mothers.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared the Zika virus as a global health concern. The CDC initially issued travel advisories for Zika-infected countries to prevent spread of the virus, and it has published guidelines on how to avoid mosquito bites. Vaccines against the virus are also in development, but could still take years before it's approved.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) revealed last month that an American woman tested positive for the virus after month-long visit in the country. DOH Secretary Janette Garin, however, assured the public that there is no outbreak and that the government is closely monitoring the situation. They are already testing any suspected cases of microcephaly in newborns and adults who present symtoms of the Zika virus.