The authors examined whether or not a correlation exists between infection with Zika virus, an emerging arbovirus, in pregnant mothers, and microcephaly in the developing fetus. After gathering data from an epidemic that took place in French Polynesia prior to the outbreak that occurred in the Americas, the authors found an increased risk for microcephaly, and resultant brain/mental damage, in infants born to mothers infected with Zika virus during the first trimester. This risk was estimated to be about 1%. The statistical significance of their findings should be taken into account by health professionals worldwide. Although further prospective studies need to be done to establish stronger connections between maternal infection and microcephaly, these data indicate that significant correlation likely exists. Emerging viruses present the potential to cause devastating epidemics, and thus should be tackled with full force in order to prevent morbidity and/or mortality. Zika virus, being an emerging virus, thus has direct effects on healthcare personnel, who need to be aware of the potential risks associated with maternal infection, and to ensure that their patients are adequately informed. By doing so, medical professionals can limit the number of diagnosed cases of congenital microcephaly. Medical students and young doctors need to be made aware of the variety of emerging viruses, as well as their potential treatments and methods of containment, as they will be the ones that will treat those patients who are unlucky enough to become infected.
Cauchemez S, et al. Association between Zika virus and microcephaly in French Polynesia, 2013–15: a retrospective study. Lancet 837 (10033): 2125-2132