FIOCRUZ Investigates Correlation Between Zika and Microcephaly

January 11, 2016

Sara Kim

An epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Brazil, suspected of causing a recent surge of reported cases of microcephaly, has health officials in the country suggesting that women delay pregnancy if possible. In 2015, Brazil reported approximately 2,780 cases of microcephaly in infants compared to an estimated 150 cases in 2014, a 1753% increase. A neurological condition identified by abnormally small head and brain size, microcephaly can lead to developmental issues and seizures in newborns.

While Zika is hypothesized to have caused the spike of microcephaly, researchers at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) say that that correlation cannot yet be confirmed. Although FIOCRUZ's Flavivirus Laboratory found the Zika virus in two pregnant women whose fetuses had confirmed microcephaly in November 2015, this was not enough evidence to cite correlation or causation between the virus and microcephaly.

However, FIOCRUZ is taking steps towards eliminating such uncertainty.  In December 2015, FIOCRUZ initiated a collaboration with the Federal University of Bahia to coordinate research efforts that may provide greater scientific insight on the association.  Additionally, FIOCRUZ recently created the Office for Combating Epidemiological Emergencies in Public Health that will generate a plan of action to address dengue and chikungunya in addition to Zika and microcephaly.

FIOCRUZ’s latest research on Zika aims to discover whether or not the Aedes albopictus mosquito transmits the disease more efficiently than the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Scientists have already found that the A. albopictus mosquito not only can transmit dengue to humans but also more efficiently transmits chikungunya than the A. aegypti. The findings of this study could lead to more productive and targeted interventions to control the Zika epidemic.

FIOCRUZ cited the Ministry of Health’s precautions to the public, including steps to reduce mosquito breeding sites and mosquito exposure. FIOZCRUZ posts regular updates on the progression of the Zika virus and microcephaly epidemics and helpful tips on its website and Facebook page.

With the increasing threat of the Zika virus across South America, Colombia’s Ministry of Health and IANPHI member NPHI Institute of Health (INS) have also intensified surveillance efforts for monitoring Zika in pregnant women following the surge of microcephaly in Brazil. On January 6, 2016, Martha Lucía Ospina, Director of Colombia’s INS, held a press conference in collaboration with the assistant director of the Communicable Disease Department, Colombia’s Deputy Health Minister, and an obstetrician gynecologist to address growing concerns regarding the impact of Zika during pregnancy. INS has created a resource page for Zika, which can be found here.

Image courtesy of Pedro Vásquez Colmenares. View license here.

Resources for NPHIs

Resources for NPHIs

Resources for NPHIs

Resources for NPHIs