Earlier this week, Brazil health officials reported 141 suspected cases of microcephaly in 44 municipalities in Pernambuco state in Northeast Brazil during the past four months. In a typical year, 10 cases are seen.
In addition, there are also reports in the Rio Grande do Norte and Paraiba, but in smaller proportions.
This prompted the Ministry of Health to decree a public health emergency of national importance to give greater flexibility to the investigations.
“We are in an unusual situation in terms of public health. With the State Health Department of Pernambuco, create a protocol to investigate the causes, including clinical examination, imaging and laboratory,” said Health Minister Marcelo Castro.
It is not clear as to the cause of the microcephaly increase, whether due to an infectious cause or not. Infants with microcephaly are born with smaller head circumference than the average. The problem may be caused by a number of factors including mother malnutrition, drug abuse and infection during pregnancy, such as rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus.
Although the investigation is early, it has been noted that the increase coincides with the arrival of Zika virus in Brazil but it is much too early to be sure.
The Health ministry offered the following guidance for pregnant women:
1 -Pregnant women should have their pregnancy followed in prenatal visits, performing all tests recommended by your doctor;
2 – Should not consume alcohol or any drugs;
3 – Do not use drugs without medical advice;
4 – Avoid contact with people with fever, rashes or infections;
5 – Adoption of measures to reduce the presence of disease-transmitting mosquitoes by eliminating breeding (remove recipentes that have standing water and adequately cover water storage sites);
6 – Protect yourself from mosquitoes, keeping doors and windows closed or screened, wear pants and long sleeved shirts and use repellents intended for pregnant women.
Until they clarify the causes of the increased incidence of microcephaly in the Northeast, women planning to become pregnant should talk to their health care provider. In this consultation, they shall evaluate the information and the risk to your pregnancy. There is no Ministry of Health’s recommendation to prevent pregnancy.
Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch
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