A private clinic in Brazil has recommended pregnant women wear burqas to protect themselves against Zika due to possible connections to the rare birth defect microcephaly.
“A private clinic in Recife recommends pregnant women wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and a burqa on the head against Zika,” wrote Ancelmo Gois in O Globo.
Authorities consider Recife in Pernambuco state, located 1,433 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, the epicenter of the Zika outbreak. Brazil has recorded over 4,000 cases of microcephaly since 2015. At least 1,300 of those infants live in Pernambuco state.
Microcephaly occurs if the brain does not form properly in pregnancy or stops growing after birth. Children can suffer from seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disability, and feeding problems.
Aedes aegypti mosquitos carry the Zika virus. While primarily found in Africa, all but two nations on the Western Hemisphere boast significant populations (Chile and Canada are the exceptions). They also carry Dengue, yellow fever, and Chikungunya. Doctors found the disease in an infant during an autopsy, and numerous mothers reported symptoms.
Neuro-pediatrician Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden examined three infants in August and discovered calcification on their brain CT scans “caused by an infectious disease rather than a genetic abnormality, leading Van Der Linden to suspect that there was a new virus at work.” When her mother, another neuro-pediatrician, said seven more children in the waiting room had microcephaly, Van Der Linden contacted the state’s health secretary.
Pediatrician Angela Rocha believes Osvaldo Cruz University hospital “has treated more than 300 babies with the condition.” She said the majority come from the poorer areas of the city where many lack running water. This means residents must store clean water, which become mosquito breeding sites.
In November, the Recife government ordered the city’s 600 health workers to travel “house to house to eliminate potential breeding grounds and educate the public about the disease the mosquito carries.” Over 200 soldiers accompany the health workers.
“Previously, people didn’t always want to let us into their homes,” explained Christine Penaforte, the executive secretary of health monitoring. “But the army is respected and so residents are more likely to let us in.”
A month later, Rocha recommended females delay pregnancy for a year or two.
“It’s a very personal decision, but at this moment of uncertainty, if families can put off their pregnancy plans, that’s what we’re recommending,” she told CNN.
Fear of microcephaly and other complications have allegedly pushed women to illegal abortions in Brazil. Doctors indicate women in all social classes are seeking out these abortions “in despair over the possibility of deformity.” Some even go through with abortions without concrete proof of complications.
Brazil outlawed abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. A judge must approve the case.
One Brazilian judge announced he will grant Zika-infected women abortions if they can prove their unborn child has microcephaly. He insisted these abortions are “valid” if reports prove the child will “be born dead” or “life after birth is impossible.” He will require at least three separate medical records to reach his decision.