Zika’s link to shrinking baby brains is scary

Posted by K R on

A spike in microcephaly cases in Brazil—and its potential links to the Zika virus—has spurred a global public health emergency, prompted calls for women to postpone pregnancy in some countries, and inspired new guidelines about how to have sex in the US.

It’s now looking like the problem may have been overstated—or at the very least, misunderstood.

Data from Brazil’s health ministry suggests that the number of children born with microcephaly, or a smaller-than-normal head and brain, may be lower than originally reported. Separately, a study by Brazilian researchers shows that the prevalence of microcephaly was likely higher in the years preceding the Zika outbreak.

The exact number of microcephaly cases in Brazil—and elsewhere—is hard to pin down. There are various definitions for the condition, which is initially diagnosed by measuring an infant’s head. Extensive investigation is usually needed to determine whether a smaller-than-average head is the result of an underdeveloped or injured brain, or simply due to a family or ethnic-group trait. That can require a slew of tests, such as MRI scans and DNA tests, Janet Soul, director of the Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, tells Quartz.

Read More: Quartz

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