Photo credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
By Pam Belluck and Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that there was now enough evidence to definitively say that the Zika virus could cause unusually small heads and brain damage in infants born to infected mothers.
The conclusion should settle months of debate about the connection between the infection and these birth defects, called microcephaly, as well as other neurological abnormalities, the officials said.
“There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director. He said the conclusion, reached after evaluating “mounting evidence from many studies,” signifies “an unprecedented association” in medicine.
“Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito can result in a devastating malformation,” Dr. Frieden said.
He and other agency officials said they hoped that the announcement increased awareness and concern about the potential threat to Americans who travel to affected areas in Latin America and those living in Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Southern states where the virus is expected to arrive this summer.
The announcement may increase pressure on Congress to allocate more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding that President Obama requested for prevention and treatment of the outbreak. While C.D.C. officials did not address funding, Dr. Sonja A. Rasmussen, the agency’s director of public health information and dissemination, said the conclusion “emphasizes the importance of working on ways to prevent Zika infection,” including efforts to develop a vaccine.
“Surveys have told us that a lot of people aren’t concerned about Zika virus infection in the United States — they don’t know a lot about it,” Dr. Rasmussen said.
“Now that we can be more convincing that Zika virus does cause microcephaly, we hope that people will focus on our prevention messages more closely.”
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