Researchers have confirmed what had previously been speculated. The Zika virus can cause congenital birth defects in infants if the mother is infected while pregnant.
The most extreme of these defects is microcephaly, a condition in which an infant is born with an unnaturally small head and brain. Studies were conducted that confirmed not only a strong correlation between infection of the mother and defects in the infant but also the mechanism through which the virus can cause microcephaly.
“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, said in a statement.
“We started using criteria about a month ago to see which ones had been met and which ones had not been met. We wanted to do this in a systematic and calculated way.” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, lead author of the report.
Frieden also added that the consequences of the virus, given the ease with which it can be transmitted, is an unprecedented find in medicine.
“Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito can result in a devastating malformation,” Dr. Frieden said.
Evidence has shown that the virus can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse in addition to mosquito bites.
Researchers are hoping that the findings will encourage the US government to allocate more funds to awareness and prevention of the virus. President Obama requested more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to address the outbreak but Congress has yet to authorize it.
Additional research is needed to determine if the stage at which a pregnant woman is infected effects whether or not the child will become afflicted with microcephaly.