By Jean Daudelin
A little-known virus called Zika has led to the declaration on Sunday of a state of emergency in Pernambuco, Brazil’s sixth most populous state. An unusually large number of suspected cases of microcephalia, a neurodevelopmental disorder, has been detected among newborns here over the last few months. The babies affected have an abnormally small cranium, a condition that is often associated with intellectual and developmental handicaps. This past weekend, Brazil’s health ministry has formally established a link between the presence of the virus and that condition, which however may also have a variety of other causes, from syphilis to malnutrition.
Still, the number of suspected cases identified this year so far (more than 1,000 in the country as a whole as of November 30, and around 500 in Pernambuco alone) significantly exceed the normal incidence of cases in Brazil, which have ranged between 139 and 175 per year since 2010. In addition, a small number of infected people have died in recent days, including a few adults, though it is unclear if the virus itself was the cause of death, if it interacted with another disease, or if the person died of an unrelated condition.