A new study has all but proven that the Zika virus is the cause of the rash outbreak of devastating birth defects seen in Brazil and beyond. Authors of this new study followed 88 pregnant women in Brazil and checked whether or not being infected with Zika thanks to a mosquito bite increases the change of their baby having birth defects. After developing a rash, the tell-tale symptom of Zika, women were tested five days later; seventy-two women tested positive for the virus.
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Other symptoms include fever, pink eye, swollen lymph nodes, and joint pain.
The major abnormalities were found in about 29% of the women who tested positive for Zika, but in zero of the women without it, according to the study from The New England Journal of Medicine. The worst time to be exposed to the Zika virus is between the sixth and 35th week of pregnancy. This is a majority of the typical 40-week pregnancy.
Some of the abnormalities associated with Zika is microcephaly, where babies are born with small skulls due to incomplete brain development, trouble growing in the womb, poor development, calcifications in the brain, and poor blood flow to the brain, umbilical cord, or placenta.
"Even if the fetus isn’t affected, the virus appears to damage the placenta, which can lead to fetal death," said study senior author Karin Nielsen, a professor of clinical pediatrics in the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Two of the women who had Zika miscarried early in pregnancy. The study was led by doctors at the UCLA and Fiocruz, which is more likely known as the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a large institute in Rio de Janeiro. Two babies were also stillborn, dying at 36 weeks and 38 weeks.
Six of the women have given birth at the time of publication. Two of them were born small, one had severe microcephaly and eye lesions and could be blind. One of the babies was delivered by emergency C-section because there wasn't any amniotic fluid left in the uterus, though the baby appears to be healthy.
"We're seeing a spectrum of abnormalities," said Nielsen, who called the baby's conditions as Zika Virus Congenital Syndrome. "It's not all just microcephaly."
The mothers in the study had no other risk factors or pregnancy complications. All of the babies will need vision and hearing tests.
The Zika virus originated in Africa and residents of the Americas have no immunity against it. Brazil and French Polynesia have seen the worst increases in microcephaly.
This study shows that there is absolutely a link between the Zika virus and birth defects. However, because only eight women have given birth, this is considered preliminary.
"This study has given us a very real, very scary view into the future," they have said.
The USA needs to "act now as if there were a very clear causal link" between Zika and birth defects, rather than wait for iron-clad proof, said Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. Delaying action will only lead to more Zika cases and more injured babies, he said.
The key may be controlling mosquitos in the spring and summer to help stop the problem. Communities will need to clean up trash and any areas where there is standing water. Communities may need to put money into spraying for mosquitos and killing them before they can even develop.
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There also needs to be an increase in contraception available so that women can delay pregnancy.