Brazil’s ministry of health linked two deaths and an unusual increase in the number of cases of microcephaly to Zika virus infection, according to a press release.
If confirmed, the recent deaths would be the first Zika virus-related deaths ever reported, the release said.
Brazil’s Ministry of Health was notified of a man with a history of lupus and chronic use of corticosteroid drugs who was suspected of having dengue fever and died. Instead, reverse transcription PCR identified Zika virus genomes in blood and viscera samples. A 16-year–old patient who died in October also was suspected of having dengue fever; however, a blood analysis performed 1 week after the patient presented with a headache, nausea and rash indicated the presence of Zika virus. Further testing confirmed the results.
Officials from the Brazilian Ministry of Health said that findings are being released as they emerge. They recommend that all patients with Zika virus infection who have worsening conditions be treated with the same protocols used for severe dengue cases.
Zika virus associated with rise in microcephaly cases
The relationship between Zika virus and the increasing occurrence of microcephaly among infants in northeastern Brazil was based on test results that revealed the presence of Zika virus in blood and tissue samples from an infant born with microcephaly who died. An initial analysis suggests the risk of Zika virus infection is associated with the first 3 months of pregnancy, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Health.
Health officials noted the situation is unprecedented in scientific research, and this finding deserves attention.
Considering the increased vulnerability among pregnant women, officials are calling for additional research to investigate the role of Zika virus infection in the human body and how it affects a fetus.
As of Nov. 21, at least 739 cases of microcephaly were reported in nine states in Brazil, mainly in Pernambuco (n = 487), Paraíba (n = 96) and Sergipe (n = 54), according to WHO. However, as of Nov. 27, WHO officials claim they have not yet determined the cause of events.
As previously reported, microcephaly is a condition that affects newborns, in which the occipitofrontal circumference is smaller than average. The condition is diagnosed in children with a head circumference of two standard deviations below the mean compared with similarly aged children. Microcephaly is caused by genetic and environmental factors, leading to developmental problems. The condition is untreatable; however, early detection can boost quality of life.
In response to the recent events, Brazil declared a national public health emergency and the Ministry of Health is conducting clinical, laboratory and ultrasound analyses of infants and mothers. In addition, CDC representatives joined local officials to identify and evaluate additional cases of microcephaly and Zika virus.
A campaign was recently launched to increase cleaning and inspection protocols in mosquito breeding areas, according to the release, and a national plan involving 17 ministries is underway for combating transmission. The country’s ministry of health said plenty of financial resources are available to support their actions, which include extra support for prenatal care, psychosocial care, physical therapy, testing and early stimulation of infants.
Zika virus spreads in the Americas
According to WHO, Zika virus was detected in 14 Brazilian states, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Norte, and has since spread to Central America. The first reported case of Zika virus in the Americas occurred in Chile in February 2014, and new infections emerged from the region until June 2014. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO also confirmed that four autochthonous cases of Zika virus infection were reported in Guatemala (n = 1) and El Salvador (n = 3). Recent outbreaks in other countries indicate the virus may spread to regions where the Aedes vector is found.
Due to the increased transmission of Zika virus, officials from the PAHO and WHO recommend that member states in the affected regions monitor cases of Zika virus infection and prepare all levels of health services for potential outbreaks. They also recommend developing a public communications strategy to reduce transmission, particularly in regions where the vector exists.