Zitka virus has been zooming through the Americas at alarming rates, with as many as 4 million cases diagnosed so far in 23 countries and territories in the region according to the World Health Organization. While Brazil has been hit the hardest, the Columbia government has announced that 2,116 pregnant women there have now been infected by the mosquito-borne illness, with 37.2% of those located in Norte de Santander province along the eastern border with Venezuela. While it is rarely fatal for the expectant mothers, Zitka is known to cause severe birth defects in infants, including microphaly. In fact, approximately 3,700 cases of microcephaly strongly suspected to be related to Zitka have already been found in Brazil.
In addition to having small heads that fail to grow at the same rate as their faces, babies born with microcephaly can have a range of other problems, depending on how severe it is. These may include: Seizures; Developmental delay problems involving the ability to sit, stand and walk; Decreased ability to learn and function in daily life; Problems with movement and balance; Difficulty swallowing; Hearing loss and vision problems.
In fact, the disease is considered so serious that Columbia’s Minstry of Health has declared Zika infection to be within the health requirements women must meet to get abortions in the fiercely conservative Catholic country, which normally restricts the procedure to rape victims, as well as patients with significant medical problems or circumstances in which the fetus is “fatally” deformed. Meanwhile, the government there has joined with other South American and Caribbean nations in urging to delay pregnancy for 6-8 months to avoid potential infection. Authorities in Columbia now predict up to 700,000 cases will be diagnosed there soon.