For months now, pregnant women have been warned that Zika virus infection could lead to microcephaly in their newborns, but that's far from the only complication that the virus can cause. Researchers now warn that Zika is getting worse, and there's still no vaccine or cure for the virus. One question scientists have had is why it took so long to connect microcephaly and other birth defects with Zika; it's been around in Africa since the 1940s, so why didn't we see a surge in microcephaly back then? It turns out that the latest strain, originating in the South Pacific before moving to Brazil and spreading throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean, is far worse than the African strain.
And microcephaly is "just the tip of the iceberg," according to NBC News. The network described the case of a baby born to a Zika-infected mother whose head measurement was just on the border for a microcephaly diagnosis, but a brain scan at two months of age showed brain damage: calcifications, which are areas of hardened brain tissue caused by cell death, and ventriculomegaly, which are areas filled with fluid. The child's prognosis is unknown. It's possible that he could suffer the same fate as babies born with microcephaly, such as learning disabilities, vision and hearing problems, and physical disabilities.
A study published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday has found that Zika infection during pregnancy can lead to intrauterine growth restriction, cellular death, ocular abnormalities, and disrupted layers of the cerebral cortex. While microcephaly is by far the most dramatic effect of Zika, it's far from the only one. It's imperative that pregnant women do everything they can to avoid infection, including using insect repellent to avoid transmission from mosquitoes, and using condoms when having sex with a male partner (the mother of the child in NBC's example is believed to have been infected via sexual transmission while pregnant).
This isn’t just a concern for South America anymore; sexually transmitted cases of Zika have already been documented in the United States, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, can survive in the U.S. — particularly the South, which is especially troubling as it’s becoming nearly impossible to procure an abortion in the South. The safest course of action would be to avoid getting pregnant until Zika infection is no longer a risk, but for those who are already pregnant, it’s best to get as far away from mosquitoes (and sexual partners who attended the Olympics) as possible. Looks like the threat of a Trump presidency isn’t the only reason to move to Canada.