Brazilian health officials are warning women about a new virus that could harm unborn babies.
Most women already feel increased health anxiety during pregnancy, but the emergence of a scary virus in Brazil has everyone more worried than usual. Health officials in six Brazilian states have declared a a state of emergency and are warning women not to get pregnant because of a mosquito-carried virus that can cause severe birth defects.
The Zika virus — which is spread by the same mosquitos that carry yellow fever and a number of other nasty illnesses — appeared in Brazil in May. The virus has very few symptoms in adults and can be easily misdiagnosed, but it’s unfortunately also been tied to microcephaly in infants. Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s brain and head are underdeveloped, and it can lead to serious complications and even death in many cases.
According to CNN, Brazil has seen a steady uptick in cases of microcephaly since the emergence of the Zika virus last spring. More than 2,400 cases of the defect have been reported this year, whereas last year there were only about 147. Doctors are also investigating 29 infant deaths and monitoring a number of pregnant women who may be sick. Officials say anywhere from half a million to 1.5 million Brazilians have been infected with the Zika virus in the past seven months.
In case that’s not alarming enough, aedes aegypti — the type of mosquito that carries the virus — lives not only in Central and South America, but has also been found in small numbers in Hawaii, Florida, and Texas. Thanks to these obnoxious little bugs, the Zika virus has been detected as far north as Mexico, so it’s not terribly far-fetched to worry it could eventually end up in the U.S., either through mosquito transmission or through sick people traveling into the country.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about this before now, it’s because the virus isn’t usually deadly for adults. It’s unborn babies who face the greatest risk of health issues, and unfortunately it’s difficult to know if complications are being caused by the Zika virus or by something else. In fact, CNN reports it could take months or even years to know if infected mosquitos are truly to blame for the rise in microcephaly cases. Brazilian women who want to get pregnant could be in limbo until then.
Thankfully, there’s nothing to worry about right now if you’re not living in the affected areas, but it’s worth noting that this virus is out there, and that there are thousands of women dealing with the tough choice of whether or not to conceive in such uncertain circumstances. It’s crazy to think about public health officials cautioning all women to avoid pregnancy, and it’s even more absurd to know that it’s happening so close to home. How on earth do you plan your family when that’s going on, and how do you ever know when you’ll truly feel safe to go ahead and try for a baby?
Hopefully women living in Brazil get some answers sooner rather than later, and health officials find a way to stop more expectant moms from getting sick. Moms-to-be definitely don’t need any more reasons to be anxious.