JAMAICA OBSERVER – Around the fifth month of her pregnancy, Daniele Ferreira dos Santos fell ill with a high fever and angry red splotches on her skin.
She soon recovered.
But weeks later, when she went to the hospital for a prenatal exam, the news was horrific: The baby she was carrying likely had a severe brain injury. When Juan Pedro Campos dos Santos came into the world in December, the circumference of his head was just 26 centimetres, about 20 percent smaller than normal.
Santos was never diagnosed with Zika, but she blames the virus for her son’s defect and for the terrible toll it has taken on her life. Living in Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, she is at the epicentre of the Zika outbreak, and Pedro’s is among 3,400 suspected cases of microcephaly that may be connected to the virus, though no link has yet been proven.
Originally from Africa, Zika spread to Asia and was first registered in Brazil in the middle of last year, spreading like wildfire through the northeast thanks in part to the region’s widespread poverty, equatorial heat and chronic infestations of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue fever and chikungunya.
“It’s the proverbial perfect storm,” said Dr Albert Ko, a professor of epidemiology with the Yale School of Public Health, adding the region was likely at least one of the initial points of entry for the disease — which researchers theorize may have been introduced to Brazil by tourists visiting the country during the 2014 World Cup or an international canoeing event the same year.
“It may have been one of many introductions, but this is the one that took off,” said Ko. “In Brazil, infestation rates (of the mosquito) are highest in the northeast because of climactic reasons and socio-economic reasons, so it makes sense that … it really took off there.”