Zika virus raises fears in Brazil

Jan 22, 2016, 3:50 PM EST
Source: James Jordan/flickr
Source: James Jordan/flickr
The Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in newborns, is thought to have arrived in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. The virus fed off of the country’s wet weather, poor sanitation, and inadequate public health services, and it is now raising alarm ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have added Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, St. Martin and Guyana, the island nations of Samoa, and Cape Verde to a list of destinations to which pregnant women should not travel in order to avoid infection with the virus.
Researchers believe the virus – first thought to be relatively innocuous - may have arrived in Brazil during the 2014 football World Cup, carried by visitors from French Polynesia, where an outbreak had just occurred.
"The virus found the perfect conditions in Brazil: a very efficient vector that loves human blood, millions of susceptible victims with no antibodies, ideal climate, and lots of places to breed,” said Ricardo Lourenço, who studies tropical infectious diseases at Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Institute.
The virus – which is also affecting Colombia and 20 other countries and territories in the Americas - is raising global alarm ahead of the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil and Colombia have warned pregnant women to take precautions against mosquito bites, and other women not to get pregnant until the effect of Zika on unborn children is better understood.
St. Martin, Barbados and Guadeloupe are popular tourist destinations, so the travel industry will most likely be affected by the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes.
The C.D.C. urged women trying to become pregnant to talk to their physicians about the risks of Zika virus infection before traveling. Only one in five infected people develop symptoms like rashes, red eyes and fevers.
Women who become infected, especially early in pregnancy, seem to be at higher risk of giving birth to babies with tiny heads and deformed brains, a condition called microcephaly.
Earlier this week, the C.D.C. urged blood testing for pregnant women who have experienced symptoms during or shortly after travel to a country in which the Zika virus is spreading.

CBS News adds:

The mosquito-borne Zika virus -- already linked to birth defects and brain damage in newborns -- may also be connected to some rare but serious cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis, the CDC said today.
Health officials said Guillain-Barré syndrome has been reported in a number of patients with probable Zika virus infections in French Polynesia and Brazil. The CDC said more research is needed to understand the connection.
"Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body usually is responding to another infection. It has an immune response that destroys the covering of nerves and interferes with the ability of nerves to function and survive," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious diseases specialist at North Shore University Hospital, in Manhasset, New York.