Microcephaly reported in Panama as Zika crisis grows

Health ministry workers fumigate against mosquitos in downtown Panama City on February 2, 2016. (ED GRIMALDO/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Panama has had its first case of birth defects associated with the Zika virus. Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of WHO, said that a baby with microcephaly — a condition characterized by an unusually small head and brain damage — was born at 30 weeks’ gestation in Panama, and died a few hours later. Evidence of the Zika virus was found in the umbilical cord.

The Zika virus, currently circulating throughout 38 countries and territories, has been associated with birth defects including microcephaly. Brazil and Panama are the only countries with documented microcephaly cases linked to Zika infection, Dr. Chan said, but Colombia is investigating several cases with a possible connection. If there is a link between Zika and microcephaly, as most scientists believe, they expect to start seeing birth defects in Colombia in June.

Dr. Anthony Costello, director of the maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health department at WHO, estimated that Brazil could expect about 2,500 confirmed cases of microcephaly. Funding to address Zika, added Dr. Chan, had been slow in coming. WHO has received about $3 million of a requested $25 million, and officials are in “active discussion” over $4 million more.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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