Contaminated Water May Have Made Zika Infections Much Worse

From IFL Science
March 12, 2020

In 2015-16, the world got a small taste of the coronavirus pandemic with the Zika virus outbreak. Although the method of transmission of Zika is very different, and it’s seldom fatal, there was a similar scrambling to understand the disease and work out how to contain it. A particular puzzle was why the effects were so much more severe in Northeast Brazil than elsewhere. New evidence points the finger at water contamination.

Zika virus was first detected in Africa in the 1940s. Although related to other mosquito-borne viruses that cause lethal conditions such as dengue fever, it was little studied because effects were usually mild. That was until its arrival in the Americas, where infections triggered a wave of birth defects.

The outbreak was widespread, but its most severe effects were much more concentrated. The World Health Organization lists “increased risk of preterm birth, fetal death and stillbirth” as consequences of infection during pregnancy, but the most severe effect was children born with significantly smaller brains (microcephaly). Children that were born with Zika-induced microcephaly are too young for us to fully know the long-term consequences, but severe brain damage is likely.

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