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Microcephaly in Brazil (Update)

03 Feb 2016

The outbreak of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection which was first identified in Brazil in May 2015, is now widespread; cases have been reported from all regions of the country. The Ministry of Health estimates between 500 000 to 1.5 million suspected ZIKV cases nationally.

During the outbreak an increase in microcephaly (babies being born with small heads) was identified in October 2015, in areas where ZIKV was circulating. Since then, the World Health Organization been collaborating with Brazilian health authorities.

The Ministry of Health is investigating all cases of microcephaly and the possible relationship with ZIKV and other birth defects. Nationally, a total of 4783 suspected cases of microcephaly were registered by 30 January 2016. A total of 3670 suspected cases of microcephaly are currently under investigation. Of those, 404 cases have had microcephaly confirmed and / or other disorders of the central nervous system, and 17 of those were linked to ZIKV.

In 2014, there were 147 cases of microcephaly reported in Brazil.

Advice for Travellers

Avoidance of mosquito bites, particularly during daylight hours, is recommended for all travellers. Due to the possible link between Zika virus infection and birth defects, pregnant women, or those planning pregnancy are strongly urged to seek pre-travel advice from their health care provider. They should be helped to understand the risks and to make an informed decision on whether to change their travel plans. If the decision is made to travel, strict measures to avoid mosquito bites both during daytime and nightime hours should be followed.

Women who have visited a Zika affected area whilst pregnant should arrange to have their next antenatal check promptly on return home, even if feeling well. This is not intended to cause undue anxiety, but merely as a precaution. In addition, medical attention must be sought quickly for any feverish illness experienced whilst travelling or on return.

Bite avoidance measures include: covering up with clothing, the use of insect repellent and bed nets impregnated with insecticide. Reduction of mosquito breeding sites around hotel rooms/homes is advised for longer term stays.