Zika ‘unknowns’ hampering public health response

The mosquito-borne Zika virus now spreading rapidly in several countries in the southern hemisphere—and diagnosed in a reported dozen travelers who have returned to the United States—has been circumstantially linked to the dramatic rise of a severe birth defect in Brazil. In a January 28, 2016 interview with the public radio program The Takeaway, Marcia Castro, an associate professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained that researchers need to learn a lot more about Zika.

“It’s scary, because since we don’t know much about the virus, we don’t know the potential mechanisms that could cause microcephaly [babies born with unusually small heads and cognitive and developmental impairments],” she said.

Only one in five people infected with Zika have symptoms, Castro said. “We don’t know if a pregnant woman contracts Zika but doesn’t have symptoms, if that’s going to be a problem. There are a lot of unknowns, which a little bit ties our hands about what we can do.”

Castro said that researchers in Brazil are working on a diagnostic test for Zika. In the short term, she advocates for a strategy focused on destroying mosquitoes’ breeding environments.

Listen to Castro’s interview on The Takeaway: The Zika virus has reached the United States

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