Recently I wrote about the Zika virus and the possible connection the virus may have with microcephaly. Since then the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Zika virus a global health emergency.
But has the incidence of microcephaly in Brazil been overblown?
According to the New York Times, 4783 cases of microcephaly have been reported thus far in Brazil. Of those cases only 404 have been confirmed as microcephaly, 709 cases have been ruled out, and remainder are still under investigation. They also report that only 17 of the cases have tested positive for the virus although the testing process may not be perfect.
From the New York Times article:
The government began requiring local health officials to report suspected cases of microcephaly in October. It did so after doctors in Zika-stricken areas began seeing an alarming increase in babies being born with unusually small heads and the brain damage that often comes with it. Brazilian researchers then linked the condition to the virus, which had only recently made its way to Brazil.
The government originally told health professionals to report suspected microcephaly cases when a baby’s head at birth was 33 centimeters, or 13 inches, or less. At that time, very little was known about the virus and its possible effects on pregnancy, so officials here did what is common in public health surveillance cases: They set broad criteria to make sure they were catching as many cases as possible.
But that standard also meant that there were many false positives of babies being reported who were actually healthy, said Claudio Maierovitch, director of the department of surveillance of communicable diseases at Brazil’s health ministry.
Later in the article:
Maria Teresa Vieira Sanseverino, a pediatrician and medical geneticist who attended the meeting, said that, “there was consensus among the medical groups that the current criteria is too broad and is drawing too many false positives.”
One consequence of the new standard could be a significant drop in the number of reported cases.
While the actions of Brazilian health officials may have been appropriate in terms of trying to have overly broad criteria for microcephaly, this fact was not reported by the media to a large degree nor explained by these same health care officials.
Whether this will result in another over-hyped virus scare like the bird flu or other viruses remains to be seen.
Of course, each individual case is different and the advice in this post should not substitute for getting a consultation with your doctor.
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