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A new outbreak of a mosquito-born virus is raising alarms in South and Central American countries like Brazil and El Salvador, and now, the Center for Disease Control has confirmed a dozen cases in the United States.
Despite more than a century of modern efforts, evolving vaccines, pesticides and other interventions, mosquito born illnesses are still a huge public health concern.
The Zika virus is named for a forest in Uganda where it was first identified in the 1940s. Its visible symptoms, which manifest in only about 20 percent of infected patients, are a rash, fever, swollen joints, and reddened eyes. But it has also been linked to nerve damage in adults, and severe birth defects in babies.
In Brazil, the Zika outbreak has been linked to a dramatic increase in babies born with abnormally small heads—a condition known as microcephaly. By itself, microcephaly is not well understood, but it can cause serious developmental problems and intellectual disabilities.
“Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly has not, and I must emphasize—has not—been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome," said Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization on Monday.
Marcia Castro, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says researchers in Brazil are working hard to develop a diagnostic test for Zika.
However, until more knowledge about the virus is generated, Castro argues that the best strategy is to try to destroy mosquito-breading environments and educate people about the virus and its potential effects.
What you'll learn from this segment:
- How serious the Zika virus is in the United States.
- What we know about the connection between Zika and birth defects.
- How the global community is responding to this virus outbreak.