Space & Innovation

Zika Virus Confirmed to Cause Microcephaly

The CDC concluded that if a woman is infected with Zika during pregnancy, the result can be microcephaly and other congenital problems in their babies.

The Zika virus can cause microcephaly - a condition in which an infant has an abnormally small brain and head - when the infant's mother is infected during pregnancy, according to a new report, published today (April 13) in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The report from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that if a woman is infected with Zika during pregnancy, the result can indeed be microcephaly and other congenital problems in the babies of those women. Researchers had strongly suspected that a link existed, but they needed sufficient evidence to definitively establish that there is a direct, cause-and-effect relationship between the virus and microcephaly - not just an association between the two.

"It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly," Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, said in a statement. [Zika Virus News: Complete Coverage of The Outbreak]

Zika Virus May Cause More Problems In Fetuses

In the report, the researchers reviewed the existing evidence that links Zika infections during pregnancy to microcephaly, and they applied established scientific criteria to determine if the virus is the reason for the problems.

In the report, the researchers noted that there was no "smoking gun," or single study that definitively showed that Zika causes microcephaly. Rather, the confirmation of cause and effect comes from considering several lines of evidence as a whole. Each line suggests - but does not prove when considered separately - that Zika infection during pregnancy can cause adverse outcomes, the researchers wrote.

For example, some research showed that babies who were born with microcephaly and other brain problems were strongly suspected, or were confirmed to have been infected, with Zika virus at the time of their birth, the researchers wrote. In addition, other evidence demonstrated a biological mechanism that could explain how the virus might cause microcephaly in fetuses. And other work identified the presence of the virus in the brain tissue of affected fetuses and infants, according to the report.

How Zika Virus Affects Unborn Babies

More evidence came from studies that lined up the specific times during pregnancy that women became infected, with the exact problems that were seen in their infants, the researchers wrote. [The 9 Deadliest Viruses on Earth]

These findings mean that a woman who is infected with Zika during pregnancy has an increased risk of having a baby with microcephaly and other brain defects, according to a statement from the CDC. However, not all women who are infected with Zika will have babies with these problems, the statement noted.

More research is needed to determine the spectrum of problems that the virus can cause in fetuses whose mothers are infected during pregnancy, as well as how the timing of when during a pregnancy a woman is infected may affect the fetus, the researchers wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Ana Beatriz is held by her father during a medical appointment at the Altino Ventura Foundation in Recife, Brazil.

Rarely has anyone looked at a potentially fatal infectious disease and exclaimed, "Now, that is a thing of beauty." One sculptor, however, has taken bacteria and viruses from their invisible world and placed them in ours.

Artist Luke Jerram has created a collection of glass artwork in the shape microorganisms -- bacteria and viruses no less that have the potential to infect or even kill human beings. By bringing these microscopic marauders to the light, Jerram demystifies these otherwise unknowable microorganisms. And using glass as a medium reinforces not only the fragility of the work, but also our own in the face of these diseases.

In this slide show, take a closer look at some of the highlights from Jerram's glass microbiology collection.

Turning HIV into a work of art is a seemingly impossible task. The virus is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 34 million people worldwide since the epidemic was first reported in 1981, according to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The HIV virus sculpture was the first Jerram built for his collection.

If there's one disease that has plagued humankind throughout its history, it's malaria. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 200 million people were infected with the disease, mostly in poverty-stricken regions of sub-Saharan Africa, but also parts of South America and Southeast Asia.

Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites. Mosquito nets, insect repellant and pesticides are all effective means of prevention, but only for those with the available resources and access to afford them.

Looking at this spindly sculpture might make you the slightest bit queasy, and for good reason. E. coli is represented by this glass artwork. Although most E. coli strains are in fact harmless to humans, the strains we're most acquainted with are the ones that cause food poisoning.

This alien-looking sculpture is actually T4 Bacteriophage, a virus that targets E. coli bacteria.

Bacteriophages are small viruses that attach to the cell membrane of bacteria. The virus injects its DNA into the bacteria, which then produces replicas of the virus, filling the bacterium until it bursts.

If this model is giving you that nostalgic feeling of plagues past, you might not be surprised to find out that this work represents Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

SARS made global headlines in 2003 when people in 37 countries and nearly reached pandemic levels. Although coverage of the illness was widely criticized for overstating the threat, nearly 9,000 were infected with the disease, with had a nearly 10 percent fatality rate.

Swine flu, shown here, was another contagious disease that drew global attention that Jerram selected for his exhibition, but this time it was personal. According to his website, Jerram came down with swine flu and constructed the sculpture "with a fever whilst swallowing my Tamiflu tablets every few hours."

Swine flu, or H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, made global headlines in 2009 as the next potential major flu epidemic. Though common among pigs, swine flu is rarely transmitted among humans. When it does infect a human, however, the symptoms associated with the virus, typical of other flu strains, are particularly acute.

Given just how common the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is among humans, you'd think this virus, pictured here, wouldn't be so controversial. In fact, it isn't, but the use of a vaccine to prevent the infection, which can lead to certain kinds of cancers in women.

Because the virus can be transmitted sexually, however, the idea of vaccinations, particularly compulsory ones for children -- the vaccine is in fact intended only for people 25 and younger -- generated a considerable pushback, despite the obvious benefits of the treatment.

Hand, foot and mouth disease might not get a lot of press, but these disease outbreaks are in fact fairly common, particularly among infants and children. Occasionally, they can be fatal. Symptoms are similar to the flu, with the exception of sores that can appear all over the body, but particularly the hands, feet and mouth of the carrier.

This final entry is an unrealized future mutation for a disease that doesn't exist yet. Look for it in a contaminated water main, food source or loving pet near you. (But seriously, don't.)