For the most part, we knew this was coming. Today, the Center for Disease Control confirmed that the Zika virus, a multi-national epidemic in South America that has spread to the United States, is proven to cause microcephaly and other serious brain defects in unborn children.
Scientists noticed the link between Zika and microcephaly early on in the virus’s outbreak, but a lack of reliable research meant that they couldn’t jump to conclusions. Microcephaly causes infants to be born with severely underdeveloped heads and brains, and often drastically shortens their life expectancy. As the virus continued to spread and more and more babies were born underdeveloped, various conspiracy theories sprang up, including the rumor that industrial chemical company Monsanto was responsible for microcephaly, not the virus.
The Zika virus is mostly non-fatal in healthy adults. It causes flu-like symptoms that can be harmful, but for the most part it passes through its hosts without endangering them. However, it’s particularly dangerous to unborn children — if a pregnant woman contracts the virus, it can significantly endanger her child. It’s also transmittable through sexual intercourse. The virus can also hang out in its hosts for a while, so controlling its spread is difficult when symptoms can lie dormant for long periods of time.
So far, Zika hasn’t had a significant impact in the States, but authorities are still monitoring the disease with growing concern.
“Everything we look at with this (Zika) virus seems to be a little scarier than we initially thought,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC told reporters at the White House press briefing on Monday.
The mosquitoes that carry Zika, aedes aegypti, are a particularly prolific species that are common in certain regions of the Americas. While there’s a definite risk of infection during peak seasons this summer, mosquito expert Alex Wild told Inverse that minimizing exposure to mosquitoes (avoiding stagnant, standing water) and slowing the bite rate (wearing DDT-heavy repellent) can go a long way toward preventing its spread. It’s still too early to tell how the disease will impact the U.S. during the warmer months, but it’s safe to say buying some bug spray or mosquito candles isn’t a bad idea for summer cookouts.