The mosquito-transmitted virus that is causing alarm in Brazil

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.

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Ebola: What Went Wrong

By Valerie Percival

The world’s complacency has turned to panic.

Ebola. The very word conjures up fear. No vaccine. No cure. Only about a third to half of those infected survive. The rest endure an excruciatingly painful death as the virus attacks and impairs cell structure and function, causing internal bleeding.

It used to be a disease that struck remote towns, deep in the African rainforest. Deadly, tragic, but contained, and far away.

Yet Ebola is not so far away anymore. The outbreak has gathered momentum, spreading across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, travelling from rural to urban areas. Like a Hydra, it is popping up throughout the region – with cases in Lagos, Nigeria and Dakar, Senegal. And coincidentally, a separate outbreak has hit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – where the virus was first identified in 1976.

It’s the largest Ebola outbreak on record. As of Aug. 31, it infected over 3,600 and killed more than 1,800 people across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. (The World Health Organization said this week that the number of related deaths has surpassed 1,900.) Public health authorities caution that the epidemic is underestimated – with many cases unreported due to stigma, fear, inability to access health care services, or because those infected reside in remote rural areas. Experts predict that it could go on for months, infecting tens of thousands of people.

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