The Zika Virus Could Take a Huge Toll in the Americas


An African virus that historically rarely infected people is spreading in the Americas, apparently causing the babies of infected mothers to be born with deformed heads. The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes and spreads when the insects bite. And though it appeared in the Americas just nine months ago in the Easter Islands off Chile, the World Health Organization said it will soon spread to almost all countries in the Americas, including to the United States.

In 2014, Brazilian health officials reported 147 cases of babies born with shrunken skulls: it was microcephaly, a congenital deformation of the skull that compresses the infants’ brains. In 2015, the number jumped to nearly 4,000 microcephaly cases reported in the country.

The correlation between the 2015 explosion in microcephaly cases in Brazil and 19 other countries in the Americas and the spread of the Zika virus is so strong that many public health leaders accept the hypothesis that maternal infection with the mosquito-carried virus during pregnancy causes the skull deformations. Zika virus genetic material has been found in the amniotic fluids of mothers delivering microcephaly babies, and autopsies of two babies that died of the ailment discovered Zika viruses in their brains.

This X-ray picture from Colombia compares the skulls of a normal baby to “Patient 1,” born to a mother who was infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. (

Though the Zika virus has recently appeared in the U.S., no cases were acquired in the country and no infected mosquitoes have been found in the 50 states. But the infected insects lurk nearby: locally acquired Zika cases have emerged in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Europe has also reportedly identified Zika-infected babies — in all cases, the —> Read More