After months of research and study by teams from around the world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has concluded what many have suspected: the Zika virus is indeed the cause of microcephaly, in addition to a whole host of other severe fetal brain defects. The announcement by the CDC comes just after they warned that the mosquito responsible for the transmission of the disease could spread to far more U.S. states than previously thought.
“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak,” says the Director of the CDC, Tom Frieden. “It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly. We are also launching further studies to determine whether children who have microcephaly born to mothers infected with the Zika virus is the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems.”
The CDC is careful to say that all the individual pieces of evidence don’t conclusively prove that the virus causes the condition, but when all of the studies are viewed together, there is overwhelmingly strong support for this conclusion. Establishing a definitive link is notoriously difficult, and researchers have so far been reluctant to do so, but the CDC has said that doing so is an important step in the fight against the disease and in the push towards driving more additional preventative actions.
It is hoped that this announcement will spur on the effort to stop Zika in its tracks. Already, the disease has been found across almost the entirety of Central America and northern South America, with it looking like only a matter of time before it makes the jump into the U.S. While there have been at least 346 confirmed cases already reported from the U.S., these are not thought to have been spread locally by the insects, but it is predicted that it could get worse if the Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads.
In fact, at a White House briefing earlier in the week, the Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said that the virus is “scarier than we initially thought” and that “most of what we’ve learned is not reassuring.” She said how the range of the mosquito could be much greater than initially thought, encompassing much of the southern states, and reaching as far north as New York. In light of the potentially huge portion of the population at risk, the CDC has emphasised the need for Congress to give the $1.9 billion in emergency funding requested to help combat it.
“We’ve now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day,” concludes Frieden. “We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public.”