An infant has been born in New York City with Zika-triggered microcephaly, raising fears that the number of such cases within the continental United States will skyrocket throughout the summer.
NBC reports that city officials have confirmed that the mother of the child contracted the Zika virus in an area known to be home to aedes aegypti, the mosquito responsible for spreading Zika. The mosquito is found in every nation of the Western Hemisphere except Chile and Canada. Officials did not specify what country or region the mother visited that exposed her to Zika.
The infant has been diagnosed with microcephaly, a condition in which the child’s skull is too small for its brain, crushing the brain and causing severe neurological damage. The child also tested positive for Zika virus, definitively linking this particularly case of microcephaly to the virus.
NBC notes that there are twelve known cases in the United States of infants born with Zika-related microcephaly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 2,000 pregnant women are being tested for Zika; 41 pregnant women in New York City have tested positive for the virus.
New York is also home to the first known case of Zika transmission from a woman to a man through sexual contact. The city has issued a warning to women who are pregnant or who could be come pregnant to avoid Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and other areas designated by the CDC, as well as engage only in protected sex throughout their pregnancy if their partner has traveled to a Zika-affected area.
The Zika virus does not cause symptoms in 80 percent of patients and only mild symptoms in most of the other twenty percent: muscle aches, fatigue, fever, and conjunctivitis. Scientists have found that it could have deadly consequences for an unborn child, however, and severe neurological consequences for children who survive their mother’s infection. A minority of adults with Zika virus have also developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a condition that causes intense muscle pains, paralysis, and death.
The CDC is sending $3.6 million in federal funds to New York City to help combat the virus, while the rest of the state will receive $1.7 million. In the less well-funded areas, local governments are resorting to innovative ways to control the mosquito population. In North Hempstead, Long Island, for example, the government is mulling a plan to unleash hundreds of bats throughout the city; bats are known to eat up to 1,000 insects an hour.
Federal funding for Zika has been in deadlock for months as Democrats attempt to add funding for Planned Parenthood to a funding bill.
Latin America is currently combatting a Zika virus epidemic, with its epicenter in Brazil. While the Southern Hemisphere is currently experiencing its winter, diminishing the mosquito population significantly, Brazil has documented thousands of cases of Zika-related microcephaly, triggering a demand by many in the medical community to either postpone or relocate the 2016 Summer Olympics, expected to begin in two weeks in Rio de Janeiro. In an open letter, over 150 members of the international medical academic community made the demand, calling the Olympics, which will attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to a Zika-affected area, an “irresponsible” event to hold under the circumstances.
At least one study has suggested that combatting the spread of Zika is futile, and only when “herd immunity” occurs – when all living people have been exposed to the virus – will the hemisphere’s population be safe of the treat.