Brazilian scientists in Rio de Janeiro have obtained the genome sequence of the Zika virus and found the disease is indeed related to the incidence of microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with small heads and impaired cognition, that country’s official news agency said Saturday.
The scientists were able to identify “the full order of the virus’s genetic data, a significant step towards understanding how Zika behaves in the human body and how to develop a vaccine as well as new tests,” Agencia Brasil reported.
The researchers at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s molecular virology lab analyzed the virus taken from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women, and the scientists also isolated the virus in the brains of fetuses with microcephaly who died in Paraiba state in northeastern Brazil right after birth, the agency said.
“What we know now may help us understand why the virus has chosen children’s brain cells over those of adults –the pregnant women,” Professor Renato Santana told the outlet.
Brazil’s Health Ministry believes the virus infected most of women who gave birth to babies with “microcephaly or changes in the central nervous system suggesting congenital infection,” the agency said.
Possibility of other malformations
Brazilian scientists are also considering the possibility that the Zika virus may be capable of causing other types of malformation, the media report said.
Meanwhile, Colombia has seen an increase in the number of Zika cases, which now number more than 37,000, health authorities there said Saturday.
There are 6,356 pregnant women who are among the total number of Zika cases, now standing at 37,011, Colombia’s National Institute of Health said in a statement.
At least 30,148 cases have been confirmed through clinical and laboratory tests. Last week, there were 5,456 new reported cases, according to the Colombian NIH.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health estimated that country’s number of Zika cases as between 497,593 and almost 1.5 million, but that has ceased counting cases of the Zika virus, according to the World Health Organization.
A problem around the world
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now counts 27 countries or territories in South and North America with active transmission of the Zika virus. Zika has also been circulating in the Cape Verde islands off Africa and the Pacific islands of Samoa and Tonga.
In January, the head of the World Health Organization recently said Zika virus was “spreading explosively” in the Americas, with another official estimating 3 million to 4 million infections in the region over a 12-month period.
“The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, told her organization’s executive board members then. “We need to get some answers quickly.”