The bad news no one wanted to hear: Zika is more devastating than we thought

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
Agence France-Presse and Associated Press |

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This baby's small head is a clear sign of microencephaly caused by Zika.

The Zika virus is “scarier” than previously thought, health officials warn, and more money is needed to fight the virus that can cause terrible birth defects.

Carried by mosquitoes, Zika has spread quickly to more than 30 places in Latin America and the Caribbean since last year.

“We absolutely need to be ready ... everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Most of what we’re learning is not reassuring.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agreed, saying: “We really do need to learn a lot more, because this is a very unusual virus.”

Brazilian researchers reported on Sunday that Zika targets developing brain cells. They used stem cells to study how babies’ brains develop in the womb, and found that the virus taken from a Brazilian patient destroyed the growing brain cells in a few days.

Now there’s evidence that some adults occasionally may suffer serious effects from Zika.

Researchers were already studying whether Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nerve condition that can cause paralysis, is linked to Zika. And on Sunday, another Brazilian research team reported two Zika patients who suffered yet another problem, a brain inflammation that damages the coating of nerve cells in a way similar to multiple sclerosis.