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Zika virus spreads across Americas as concerns mount over birth defects

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 23 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6983
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. 1Montreal

While a vaccine for dengue virus was approved this week in Mexico and the Philippines, dengue’s lesser known cousin the Zika virus has ballooned into a public health crisis across large parts of Latin America.

Zika’s rapid geographic spread would be causing less concern to public health authorities were it not for worrying evidence that the disease is less benign than initially thought. Hundreds of cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome have sprung up in the wake of Zika infection, but it is an explosion of microcephaly among infants born to infected women that has caused Brazil to declare Zika a “public health emergency of national importance.”

Brazil’s first confirmed Zika infection was in March 2015. Over the previous five years, the country of 204 million saw between 130 and 170 cases of microcephaly each year. In the first nine months of 2015, this figure roughly doubled. In the past three months, over 2400 further cases have been reported.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an epidemiological alert on 1 December warning of a suspected link between Zika and neurological syndrome or congenital malformation, but it noted that final proof was lacking.1 The health ministries of Brazil and of Mexico, where …

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