|Brazil has confirmed 1,198 cases of Zika-related microcephaly, and the disease has continued to spread through the Americas.|
[PHOTO: Conifer/Flickr/CC BY 2.0]
Geneva: On 7th May 2015, tests conducted at Brazil’s national reference laboratory conclusively identified Zika in several samples. A new mosquito-borne disease had indeed arrived in the Americas, though no one knew what that might mean.
In early February last year, doctors in the impoverished northeastern part of Brazil noticed a surge in the number of people complaining about a mild illness, with and without fever, characterized by rash, fatigue, joint pains, and red eyes.
The illness was brief and recovery was spontaneous. A mild form of dengue, a mosquito-borne disease hyperendemic throughout the country, was initially suspected, but tests were negative in the vast majority of samples.
Chikungunya, another mosquito-borne disease first detected in Africa in 1952, had hopped to Brazil in September 2014 and was likewise suspected. Again, tests results were negative.
At the end of March 2015, Brazil informed WHO that nearly 7,000 cases of an illness characterized by skin rash had been reported in six north-eastern states.
In late April, on a long shot, a laboratory in Bahia State researchers began to suspect that the disease might be spread by the area’s ubiquitous and dense mosquito population.
They tested for Zika, an exotic and poorly understood virus, carried by mosquitoes, that had never been seen in the Americas.
At the end of October 2015, Brazil informed WHO that 54 cases of microcephaly among newborns had been detected since August.
The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.
Though evidence was scant, paediatric neurologists in Brazil were convinced that the brain abnormalities were linked to Zika. Subsequent findings would prove them right.
Since then, Brazil has confirmed 1,198 cases of Zika-related microcephaly, and the disease has continued to spread through the Americas. -UNifeed