Surveillance of Zika virus infection and microcephaly in Brazil

An article by The Lancet
June 29, 2016

Zika virus has been spreading rapidly in Brazil and the Americas, with a sharp increase in the number of notified microcephaly cases since September, 2015.1,2 Based on the high number of cases, and the association between Zika virus infection and microcephaly,3,4 WHO on Feb 1, 2016, declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.5 Recently, animal models have shown that the Brazilian Zika virus strain causes intrauterine growth restriction and microcephaly.6

An emerging disease such as Zika virus infection, with severe consequences for newborn babies, is already a major challenge for public health authorities for countries as large as Brazil. But the effect of the current epidemic is expected to be even more devastating, considering the current Brazilian economic crisis and its potential impact on the already chronically underfunded Brazilian health system.7 Effective evidence-based health surveillance systems are needed.

In the context of several scientific and public health uncertainties regarding Zika virus infection, Giovanny França and colleagues'8 paper in The Lancet is welcome. Using data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health surveillance system for microcephaly, the study describes clinical and anthropometric characteristics of the largest case series of suspected Zika virus infection reported so far. Among a total of 5554 liveborn infants with suspected microcephaly, the study includes data for all 1501 suspected cases (27%) with a complete investigation.

 

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