In early 2016 Brazilian authorities noted an alarming spike in the number of cases of microcephaly in some parts of the country. Microcephaly is the medical term for "small head", meaning that the baby's brain did not develop normally during pregnancy. The symptoms of microcephaly can include intellectual deficits, deafness, blindness, seizures and death. Usually microcephaly is extremely rare, but Brazil was seeing many times the number of cases expected. The reason? The condition was being caused by Zika, a formerly little-known virus transmitted by mosquitoes. Women who were infected during pregnancy, or even before pregnancy, transmitted the virus to the developing baby, with devastating consequences.
Since the outbreak was first identified we have learned a lot about Zika, none of it good. The virus can also be transferred to a woman through her partner's semen, so even if she isn't infected by a mosquito bite, she could still get infected and pass the virus on to her fetus. Also, the geographic range of Zika is now known to extend throughout South and Central America and Mexico, and is even in the southern United States. Because a Zika infection often doesn't have symptoms for the woman, she may be carrying the Zika virus without knowing it.
This is a public health disaster, but there seems to be little that the affected countries are able - or willing - to do. "Don't get pregnant" is the advice from health ministers. This is very difficult for women to do in countries where birth control expensive and hard to access, and where abortion is often illegal. Many women are left with few options to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child.
For more information on Zika and its effects on the brain please see the article below: