RECIFE, BRAZIL – JANUARY 26: Dr. Angela Rocha (L), pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, speaks to Ivalda Caetano (R), grandmother of Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos (2 months), C, who has microcephaly, on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. Brazil…
By Brian Kahn ublished: January 28th, 2016
The rapid rise of the Zika virus is turning into a full-on public health crisis. The virus, transferred via specific types of mosquitoes, “is now spreading explosively” across Latin America, according to Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).
There could be up to 4 million cases right now, just eight months after the first case was reported in Brazil. There are 23 countries where the virus is active.
A number of factors have had to line up for the Zika virus — a disease that’s been associated with birth defects — to spread so far and wide so quickly, but chief among them is heavy rain and heat. Climate change could play a future role in this virus’ — as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses — spread as it creates conditions more favorable to the mosquitoes that transmit it.
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Heavy rain and warm temperatures have helped the mosquitoes carrying Zika thrive. There have been heavy rains in southern Brazil and Uruguay this winter (and really for much of the year). Those rains can translate to standing water on the ground, which is crucial mosquito breeding habitat. El Niño has a strong influence on that region and it’s likely playing a role in increased risk of the Zika virus there.
The outbreak initially started in the northeast of the country, however, which usually dries out during El Niño (this year has been no exception). It might seem counterintuitive but drought is also prime time for mosquitoes. There’s a notable link between an uptick in dengue fever — another disease transmitted by mosquitoes that transmit Zika — and drought because of how people store water in the region.