Microcephaly outbreaks spread
The Zika virus which is thought to cause birth defects in babies, microcephaly, could infect up to four million people in North and South America over the next year. That’s the warning from the World Health Organisation which is holding an emergency meeting, next week, to discuss ways of dealing with the virus which is transmitted by mosquitoes. So far it has spread to more than twenty countries and official are warning that in Brazil alone, one and a half million people could be infected.
Our science editor David Shukman is in the city of Recife in North East Brazil where it’s thought more than a hundred thousand people have caught the virus – which has no cure.
Zika Virus is spreading explosively
David Shukman “The slums of Brazil are the front line of what’s become a global health crisis. We watch as soldiers try to search every single home here because one of the very few ways to combat the Zika virus is to hunt for the mosquitoes that carry it. And the water that they breed in. While we’re with the patrol, the soldiers find exactly the conditions that allow the mosquitoes to thrive. The challenge is that everywhere you look there are little pools of water. And because in a favela like this, the supply isn’t reliable, people store it.
But, If there’s just one little gap in a tank like this, where mosquitoes can get in and you’ve got yet another problem. Imagine multiplying that thousands of times.
In a tiny yard, a discovery, a larva which left alone would emerge as a mosquito within 48 hours. Health officials sterilise the water. A tiny victory in a war that’s proving hard to win.
Baby Caroline is a victim, her brain is smaller than it should be. There’s no definite proof that the Zika virus caused her microcephaly but the evidence is growing.
Her mother says she was caught by surprise but he will do everything to help make her baby’s life better.
In this one city, Recife, officials say up to a hundred thousand people may be infected. On a map, pins mark the cases of microcephaly and week after week more are added.”
Jailson Correia, Recife Health Secretary “There is a major public health challenge, probably about the most difficult challenges we have to face in Brazil. And it’s already becoming a generalised issue.”
David Shukman “In a government lab, analysis of a sample from a brain-damaged child. But despite all the leading technology her, there are key questions about the virus that scientists simply can’t answer.”
Professor Laura Rodrigues “We need to know the risks. If a woman has Zika, is the chance of having a microcephalic baby 90%, or 10%, or even 5%. That’s very important for a woman’s choice, for a viral treatment. We don’t know if there’s a viral treatment that when given to a woman will prevent transmission to the baby.”
David Shukman “This is the first major city to be hit by the virus. Because it was taken completely by surprise, it’s struggling to cope. And that means it’s almost inevitable that more babies will be born deformed. And there’s a lesson in this, all the other tropical cities around the world which are vulnerable to Zika virus – get ready.
Day after day and street by street, it’ll take real determination to turn the tide and, of course, for many babies and others yet to be born, the effort has come too late.”
This was an item on the BBC News at Six on 28th Jan 2016