Zika Virus Warnings Expanded, May Be Linked To Microcephaly Birth Defects

Eight more countries and territories have been added to a Zika virus warning issued by federal health regulators, who say the illness may be linked to paralysis and a birth defect that causes newborns to be born with unusually small heads. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Barbados, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Ecuador, Guadalupe, Guyana and Samoa to the list of countries under a Zika virus travel advisory.

Health officials are particularly concerned about the risk to pregnant women, who may suffer miscarriages or give birth to a child with birth defects.

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The Zika virus is a mosquito-born disease that can cause fevers, maculopapular rashes, arthralgia, and conjunctivitis. Severe cases can require hospitalization, though deaths are rare. It can also, however, be transmitted to a developing fetus and is suspected of causing miscarriages, although no causal proof of fetal loss has been confirmed.

The disease, for which there is no vaccine or treatment drug, has recently been detected in 22 different countries in the Americas. While no cases have reportedly been acquired in the United States, some travelers from those other countries, such as Puerto Rico and Brazil, have been diagnosed with the virus once they returned to the U.S.

On January 22, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) warned of a possible link between the Zika virus and microcephaly. The CDC warns that an increase in cases of the birth defect have increased since September in areas where the Zika virus has spread.

“By September, reports of an increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly in Zika virus-affecteed areas began to emerge, and Zika virus RNA was identified in the amniotic fluid of two women whose fetuses had been found to have microcephaly by prenatal ultrasound,” the CDC reports. “Further studies are needed to confirm the association of microcephaly with Zika virus infection during pregnancy and to understand any other adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with Zika virus infection.”

The Zika virus outbreak was first detected by Brazillian health officials in early 2014. Health officials in Brazil report 35 cases of microcephaly between August and October of 2015, with all of the pregnant women living in Zika virus-affected areas. Of those 35, 25 of the cases were severe.

The CDC has advised health care professionals to ask all pregnant women about recent travel, and to evaluate those who have been to an area with an ongoing Zika virus for possible infection.

In addition to the risk to developing fetuses, the World Health Organization (WHO)reports that an unusual increase in a type of paralysis known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in El Salvador which may be liked to Zika virus infections as well.

The WHO warning indicates that since last month, El Salvador health officials have detected 46 cases of GBS, including two fatalities. There are typically only 169 cases seen in that country through the course of an entire year.

GBS is often linked to infectious illnesses, and starts with weakness and tingling in the limbs that can eventually become full paralysis. Most victims must be hospitalized, however the paralysis is usually temporary. In some cases, patients suffer lingering weakness and fatigue even after the illness has passed.


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