This Mother’s Day, tens of thousands of expectant mothers across the globe are confronting the heartbreaking fear that their baby will be born with a severe, permanent disability because of the Zika virus. Mothers and children are living with the tragic effects of the virus every day.
The link between the Zika virus and serious brain and other neurological defects in newborns is no longer in doubt. But the full extent of the Zika outbreak and all its causes is not known, and the response to date has been inadequate. This Mother’s Day is a time to call for action — to improve the prevention and response to global outbreaks such as Zika — so that next Mother’s day is marked by fewer cases, less despair, and more answers.
The number of Zika cases is growing rapidly. What began in Brazil has spread across South America, the Caribbean and Latin America and now spread through much of the world. In the past year, 42 countries have detected Zika for the first time. What often starts as a simple mosquito bite to a pregnant woman leads to a mild, brief illness in the mother but can result in the birth of a child with serious brain defects. The developing brain is most susceptible to the ravages of Zika.
These issues will become paramount here in the United States, as we move into the warm, wet weather in which mosquitos breed, and bite. For women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, this is an especially anxious time. Yet mosquitoes aren’t the only source. The latest evidence suggests that Zika can spread through sexual contact and blood transfusions. But there is so much we don’t know about Zika: other modes of transmission, why it affects people differently, and how we might best keep moms and babies safe. Given that there is neither a vaccine nor treatment, these questions loom large.
So the bottom line is this: Zika is not a virus the U.S. can fight alone. Mosquitoes and viruses don’t respect national borders. In our interconnected world, a disease outbreak anywhere is potentially a disease outbreak everywhere. So what can we do?