Brazilian health authorities, who alerted the nation Monday to the rapid spread of the Zika virus, confirmed that up to now it has caused one death and that another six victims are in critical condition and under medical examination.
The virus, which up to now has not been considered life-threatening, could also be the cause of 1,248 cases of babies born since July with abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, the director of the Health Ministry's Department of Infectious Diseases, Claudio Maierovitch, said.
We have three different clinical trials that for the first time show that Zika can cause death and that it causes severe deformations in fetuses, Maierovitch told a press conference.
Zika is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also responsible for the spread of dengue fever and Chikungunya, but the disease has never before been considered serious and the Health Ministry did not require medical authorities to report the cases.
The ministry, however, issued an alert Monday due to the rapid spread of the virus across the country.
As of last Friday, Brazil had recorded 1,248 cases of microcephaly, suspected of having been caused by the Zika virus in 14 of the country's 27 states.
This is a significant increase over the 739 cases of micro-cephalic babies registered up to a week ago in nine states and more than doubles the 520 recorded up to mid-November.
The arrival of the Zika virus multiplied by eight the number of microcephaly cases in the country. Over the past five years, Brazil had an average of 156 microcephaly cases annually.
A laboratory exam of a baby with microcephaly and other congenital illnesses performed at the Evandro Chagas Institute, known for its groundbreaking studies of tropical diseases and located in Belen in the northern Brazilian state of Para, confirmed that the newborn had the Zika virus.
Studies at the Evandro Chagas Institute showed for the first time that Zika can cause a serious illness like dengue. We still don't know how, but the mechanisms are suspected to be very similar to those that occur in dengue, Maierovitch said.
Preliminary analyses suggest that the greatest risk of contagion occurs during the first three months of pregnancy.
Health Minister Marcelo Castro on November 11 declared a public health emergency because of the suspected cases of microcephaly.