Zika, microcephaly link: What’s the evidence, and what’s still unknown?

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Before October 2015, the few scientists who knew much about the Zika virus could have summed it up in two words: mostly harmless.

That’s still largely true. The virus, which is mainly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, causes no or very mild symptoms in most people who catch it. But last October, northeastern Brazil reported an abrupt rise in the number of babies born with an abnormally small head, a condition known as microcephaly. The timing roughly coincided with outbreaks of Zika months earlier, and since then scientists have been scrambling to find out just how harmful the virus might be to fetuses.

Researchers are piling up evidence at record speed. But much of the epidemiological data from Brazil is poor, largely because a problem was only suspected months after the virus had spread through large parts of the country, and the clinical data so far available are mostly preliminary.

An increasing number of reports on individual newborn babies, or stillborn or aborted fetuses with microcephaly, show Zika viral RNA at the scene of the crime. One particularly robust study that recovered the Zika viral genome from an aborted fetus provides compelling evidence that the virus can cause severe brain damage. And clinicians in Brazil say that they are seeing higher levels of unusually severe microcephaly cases.

Read full, original post: Zika and birth defects: what we know and what we don’t

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