Paulo Sotero – The Huffington Post, 02/22/2016
The epicenter of the Zika virus epidemic, Brazil has launched a major offensive against the mosquito born disease that has contaminated more than 1.5 million people in the country in less than a year and could infect an estimated 4 million in the Americas, including in the United States, in the next twelve months. The World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency on February 1st. Although it is asymptomatic in most cases, the rapid spread of the virus has alarmed health officials after the birth of hundreds of babies with abnormal small heads in the Brazilian Northeastern region. Scientists have yet to fully establish and explain the connection between Zika and microcephaly. Marcelo Castro, Brazil’s Health minister, said last week that he ” is absolutely sure” that the virus is the cause of the condition in at least 41 of 3,800 cases under study. The WHO is not so certain. “The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven,” said WHO General Director Dr. Margaret Chan.
Biologist Fernando Reinarch, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, agrees with the cautious approach taken so far by international health experts. He says that microcephaly is not new and that the recent explosion in the number of cases may be explained in part by a change in the reporting criteria in Brazil, which became mandatory only last year, after doctors and health officials started to see in the state of Pernambuco an unusual number of babies born with brains smaller than the 33 centimeters in diameter considered normal. In his February 6th column for the daily Estado de S.Paulo, Reinach noted that Brazil and the US use the same definition for microcephaly. In the US, some 25,000 babies, or 0,6% percent of the 3 million newborns every year, are reported to have the condition, from various causes. Using the same percentage, Reinach estimated in 19,250 the number of children born with microcephaly in Brazil per year. The change to mandatory reporting of microcephaly, not Zika, may explain the sudden increase in the number of cases.