Brazil is gripped by yet another crisis as thousands of babies are found to have been born with damaged brains. With preliminary evidence pointing the finger at a mosquito-borne virus called Zika, Brazilian authorities have urged women not to get pregnant.
Zika virus has been detected in several parts of the South American country but the north-eastern region has reported the maximum number of cases. Symptoms of the virus infection include fever, rashes and vomiting while the neurological disorder — known as microcephaly — could result in under-developed brains in babies due to shrunken skulls.
So far in 2015, more than 2,700 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported, while 40 cases of infant deaths have occurred. Brazilian health officials are investigating the incidents.
Brazil's health ministry said: "This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world of scientific research." In 2014 the country had 147 microcephaly cases.
Six Brazilian states — which includes Pernambuco where over 900 cases were found — have declared states of emergency. "These are newborns who will require special attention their entire lives. It's an emotional stress that just can't be imagined. Here in Pernambuco, we're talking about a generation of babies that's going to be affected," Angela Rocha, paediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Pernambuco, told CNN.
As part of emergency measures, the government has also deployed army personnel to drain larvae-infested water-logged areas to stop the breeding of the virus. Further research is ongoing to establish a clear link between the Zika virus and infant microcephaly but the Brazilian health ministry recently expressed confidence about the strong association between the two.
There is no vaccination for the Zika virus, which first surfaced in Africa during 1940s, as yet. It is still unclear how Zika recently reached the Latin American country and managed to threaten developing foetuses. The recent surge in incoming tourists over the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is also suspected to be a factor. Fears over the government handling of the crisis are also high given Brazil's current situation over large-scale corruption scandal and economic crisis.