Brain Damage in Zika Babies Far Worse than Expected

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While health officials in Brazil say the epidemic is peaking there, the scale and severity of prenatal damage by the Zika virus are far worse than expected.

Experts have begun calling the assemblage of maladies linked to the virus “Congenital Zika Syndrome”–to describe babies born with disabilities more severe than in textbook microcephaly cases.

Researchers say the virus attacks lobes of the fetal brain that control thought, vision and movement, and prevents parts of the brain not yet formed from developing. It may also trigger other birth defects that won’t be detected until after these babies grow.

Without a vaccine, public-health authorities are trying to control mosquitoes spreading Zika. Scientists are trying to understand how a virus that had appeared benign since first identified nearly 70 years ago could now pose such a grave risk.

The number of confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly in Brazil associated with the Zika virus remained stable at 4,908 in the week through April 23, just one case more than a week earlier, the Health Ministry said last Tuesday.

Of these, the number of confirmed cases climbed to 1,198 from 1,168 a week earlier, but suspected ones under investigation continued to decline to 3,710 from 3,741 a week ago.

Cases that have been ruled out rose to 2,320 in the week through April 23, from 2,241 a week earlier, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Senate negotiators moved closer to an agreement to provide at least $1.1 billion in emergency financing to combat the rapidly spreading Zika virus, which public health officials warn poses an imminent threat, but House Republicans said they were still not ready to approve additional funds.

The White House bluntly warned that Republicans were not acting quickly enough and that the needed money might not arrive before mosquitoes carrying the disease, which causes birth defects, reach the United States.

“This is an emergency,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “The American people are counting on Congress to act. And instead, we’ve gotten bureaucratic excuses.”

The administration first requested $1.9 billion in emergency financing to combat the Zika virus in February, but was rebuffed by congressional Republican leaders who urged the administration to redirect $510 million previously allocated to fight Ebola–a move that was made this month.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a Republican who has led negotiations for his party, said that his talks with Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat, had produced the outlines of an agreement that would provide about $1.1 billion in additional financing.

Monday, May 2, 2016 / Vol. 24 / No. 17