What Is Causing The Shocking Increase In Infants Born With Abnormally Small Heads?

Brazil's government has declared a state of emergency as a condition called microcephaly is rapidly increasing in numbers in the country. Around 3000 cases were reported in 2015, which is nearly 20 times as much as in the prior year. Microcephaly is a neurological disability in which the size of the brain is abnormally small due to unusual growth or underdevelopment. Factors that may have a role in its emergence include chromosomal abnormalities, and exposure to toxic substances or maternal and fetal infections during pregnancy (1,2)

It is unclear what is causing the rapid increase in microcephaly in Brazil, yet a strong suspect is the mosquito-borne Zika virus currently plaguing in the same districts. Typically causing a rash and joint pain, the virus has not been previously known to cause microcephaly. However, indicators such as geographical coincidence, the ability of the virus to cross the placental barrier, and its ability to replicate once reaching the central nervous system, all point in the direction of a connection to the rise in the neurological condition. 

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1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, (2015). Microcephaly Information Page: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). [online] Ninds.nih.gov

2. Mayoclinic.org, (2015). Microcephaly Causes - Mayo Clinic