The Current

New mosquito-borne virus in Brazil linked to thousands of birth defects

A mosquito carrying the Zika virus is believed to be responsible for rare birth defects, triggering travel warnings for pregnant women. The rise in mosquito-borne viruses in countries such as Brazil has experts worrying South America is losing the war on the mosquito.
A rise in mosquito-borne viruses in countries such as Brazil has experts concerned South America is losing the war on the mosquito. (Andreas/Flickr cc)
Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.

The Zika virus is something the Public Health Agency of Canada has taken notice of too. 

Both agencies are advising pregnant women to consider avoiding or postponing travel to South and Central America, and parts of the Caribbean, because the Zika virus is being blamed for a devastating, rare birth defect. 

Here's what we know about the Zika virus so far:

  • For most, the symptoms are nothing too dire — fever, rash, and some joint pain. (iStock)
     The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947 — but it didn't begin to spread widely in Latin America and the Caribbean until last year.
  • The current outbreak affects some 14 countries — from Mexico to Paraguay, but also including Haiti and Puerto Rico.  But most cases have occurred in Brazil. Since the mosquito-transmitted infection appeared in the country last May, scientists believe it has infected more than one million Brazilians.
  • Doctors now believe Zika virus contributes to microcephaly — where a child is born with an unusually small head and stunted brain development.
  • Since October, more than 3,500 cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil.       
  • Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in containers at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal are in Brazil to train local researchers to combat the Zika virus epidemic. (Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

    And, as if the onset of the Zika virus wasn't enough, it isn't the only mosquito-born disease currently causing alarm in Brazil, and the region. Dengue fever and the chikungunya virus are on the rise as well. 

    Doctor Jorge Kalil is the director of the Butantan Institute, a biomedical research centre affiliated with the São Paulo State secretary of health. 

    Dr. Kamran Khan studies the spread of infectious diseases, and he's had his eye on the Zika virus for several months now. He's a physician and scientist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

    This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Catherine Kalbfleisch and Marino Greco.