Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

An Aedes aegypti mosquito

'Unprecedented Situation' in Brazil as Number of Cases of Virus-Linked Birth Defect Explodes

Mosquito responsible for dengue epidemic also bringing Zika to drought-stricken Brazil

Andrea Germanos

Health officials in Brazil have warned of an "unprecedented situation" and are even urging women in some states to avoid getting pregnant as they've linked a rise in babies born with a serious birth defect to a mosquito-borne viral disease.

The virus in question is Zika, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  That mosquito also carries dengue and chikungunya.

As the World Health Organization explains, Zika fever "is usually mild with symptoms that can last between two and seven days." Those symptoms may include a mild fever, rash, and headaches. But the disease is now being linked in Brazil to microcephaly in newborns, a neurological condition in which the head is very small because of an abnormally developed brain.

In Brazil this year, there's been a massive rise in the number of cases of microcephaly linked to the virus, prompting six states to declare a state of emergency.  While last year there were a reported 147 cases of microcephaly, there have been over 2,700 cases of babies born with microcephaly this year, with a 16-percent increase reported just this week. 

According to figures released Dec. 1 by the Pan American Health Organization, there's been "a twentyfold increase [in microcephaly] in comparison to the rate observed in previous years."

Brazil's Health Ministry says over 1.5 million people could contract the Zika virus by the year's end; other countries in the Americas that have reported local Zika transmission include Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and as far north as Mexico.

"This is probably the largest outbreak of Zika ever recorded," the Wall Street Journal quotes Ann Powers, acting chief of the arboviral diseases branch at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying. "There’s a lot of concern about what it means, what the implications are, and what we can potentially do for containment and control."

From CNN:

When the cases of microcephaly started to soar last month, doctors noticed they coincided with the appearance of the Zika virus in Brazil. They soon discovered that most of the affected mothers reported having Zika-like symptoms during early pregnancy -- mild fever, rash and headaches.

On November 28, Brazil's Health Ministry announced that during an autopsy it had found the Zika virus in a baby born with microcephaly, establishing a link between the two.

"This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research," the ministry said on its website.

The Washington Post adds:

Until a few years ago, human infections with the virus were almost unheard of. Then, for reasons scientists can't explain but think may have to do with the complicated effects of climate change, it began to pop up in far-flung parts of the world. In 2007, it infected nearly three-quarters of Yap Island's 11,000 residents. In 2013, Zika showed up in Tahiti and other parts of French Polynesia and was responsible for making an estimated 28,000 people so ill they sought medical care. It arrived in Brazil in May, where tens of thousands have fallen ill.

The country is also dealing with a dengue epidemic. "One of the reasons is climate change, according to experts." NPR reports. "A harsh drought has been affecting Brazil, so people are storing water on their rooftops.  The Aedes aegypti loves to breed in standing water in urban environments."

Researchers with the United Nations University last year also pointed to how climate change could worsen dengue's threat.  "Changes to climate could result in increased exposure and pose a serious threat to areas that do not currently experience endemic dengue," their report said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·


Betrayal of Railway Workers Ignites Working-Class Fury Toward Biden and Democrats

"Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic," said one rail leader. "Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class 1 rail carriers every time."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo