March 7, 2016
Zika Virus May Be Linked To Microcephaly, CDC Confirms 9 U.S. Cases Of Zika

The mosquito-borne Zika virus continues to spread in affected and now unaffected countries; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed nine cases of Zika among pregnant women in the United States and health officials are currently investigating 10 additional suspected cases. All 19 U.S. residents had traveled to Zika affected areas.

According to NBC News:

"Five of the nine affected babies or fetuses have either miscarried or shown evidence of birth defects.

Two of the pregnancies with the virus, which is suspected of causing severe birth defects, have ended in miscarriage, two more were aborted, and one baby was born with severe microcephaly. Two babies were born healthy, the CDC reported, and two women are still pregnant with apparently healthy babies."

Since May 2015, Brazil has experienced an alarming outbreak of the Zika virus, with Brazilian officials reporting increased numbers of babies born with microcephaly. Health officials in the U.S. and abroad speculate there is a link between Zika and microcephaly and researchers are studying the possible correlation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it remains uncertain that a Zika infection during pregnancy causes microcephaly, though the evidence is building.Microcephaly is a rare, neurological birth defect where a baby's head is significantly smaller than compared with those of the same age and sex. The birth defect can range from moderate to severe and impacts an individual on a permanent basis due to an underdeveloped brain and brain tissue damage. There is no treatment for the condition, though experts recommend early intervention through various therapies.Typically microcephaly results from the brain developing abnormally during a woman's pregnancy or not growing appropriately after birth. The Mayo Clinic asserts that microcephaly can be caused by genetic and environmental factors including infections such as rubella, toxoplasmosis or cytomegalovirus during pregnancy. The condition can also result from severe malnutrition; exposure to alcohol, drugs or toxic chemicals and interruption of blood flow and supply to the brain during development in the womb. Microcephaly can be isolated or occur in conjunction with other birth defects. The brain defect has been linked with seizures, speech and other developmental delays, problems with movement and balance, hearing and vision loss and more.

Now the CDC is also cautioning men returning from Zika affected areas as it has recently become clear that the virus can be transmitted sexually via vaginal or anal intercourse and oral sex. NBC News reported:

"CDC also detailed several cases of sexual transmission of Zika. All involved a man who had traveled to a Zika-affected area and had unprotected sex with a woman while he had symptoms, such as a rash or fever."
The CDC recently reported 14 new suspected cases of sexually transmitted Zika in the U.S. Two cases are confirmed and the CDC is still investigating the others. In all suspected cases the men involved had traveled to Zika affected areas and developed symptoms characteristic of the Zika virus, possibly infecting women who had not traveled. Female partners developed Zika symptoms within a two week period. Health officials have not yet determined how long men might be able to transmit the Zika virus in semen.The CDC reports that nearly 40 global regions are actively affected by the Zika virus including Aruba, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and more.

[Photo by Felipe Dana/AP Images]