According to officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mounting evidence from numerous studies has solidified the causative link between maternal Zika virus infection and serious brain anomalies in infants, including the devastating birth defect known as microcephaly (abnormal smallness of the head). Suspicion that Zika virus causes microcephaly was raised in late 2015, when Brazilian officials reported a 20-fold increase in the birth defect months after the country had experienced a severe outbreak of Zika fever. Some mothers who gave birth to infants with microcephaly and other serious brain defects had become infected with the mosquito-borne virus during pregnancy.
CDC researchers examined the possibility for causation according to different frameworks and criteria developed specifically for the assessment of potential teratogens (prenatal toxins). In addition to substantiating the causative relationship, the researchers found that certain features of microcephaly resulting from maternal Zika virus infection are consistent with fetal brain disruption sequence, an exceedingly rare and severe form of the condition. The CDC’s findings, published April 13, 2016, in The New England Journal of Medicine, are expected to bring closure to earlier debate about the relationship between Zika virus and microcephaly. However, many questions remain, including whether the risk of brain defects varies according to when infection occurs during pregnancy and whether the virus causes damage to organs other than the brain.
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