It's easy to blame the rise in this scary birth defect on conspiracy theories surrounding pesticides and vaccinations, but the truth is it really is caused by the Zika virus.
After carefully reviewing existing evidence, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that the Zika virus does, in fact, cause microcephaly.
This isn't exactly shocking news—after all, there's been speculation about the relationship between the virus and the birth defect for months. When cases of microcephaly popped up with alarming frequency in Brazil around the same time the virus made its way to the area, experts began to believe there may be a link. We've also seen speculation that the timing may have been purely coincidental—especially after women have given birth to healthy babies after contracting the virus.
But now it appears the CDC is confident that the virus can lead to microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
"This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly. We are also launching further studies to determine whether children who have microcephaly born to mothers infected by the Zika virus is the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems," Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC, said. "We've now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day. We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public."
Researchers looked at mounting evidence and published studies to reach this conclusion.
But despite the fact that the CDC is now able to say with certainty that Zika and microcephaly are connected, warnings to pregnant women and those who wish to conceive remain the same: "Our previous recommendations regarding how to prevent and avoid Zika virus infection and transmission remain in place. Obstetrician-gynecologists should be prepared to counsel their patients regarding the importance of postponing travel to affected areas if they are planning to become pregnant or if they are pregnant, as well as the potential need to delay pregnancy with appropriate use of contraception if women live in affected areas or if travel to these areas cannot be avoided. Ob-gyns should also be up-to-date with the emerging evidence regarding sexual transmission of the virus," a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reads.
It's important to remember that while Zika has relatively mild effects on most people, pregnant women should avoid travel to areas that have been hit by the virus. If your partner has been to an area were Zika is active, be sure to abstain from unprotected sex for six months. If you've been contracted the virus and are trying to conceive you should speak to your doctor and consider holding off before becoming pregnant.