Brazil is warning pregnant women to stay inside and avoid mosquito bites during the upcoming summer season, due to an apparent link between the spread of a mosquito-borne virus and babies born with birth defects.
Brazil's Health Ministry reported this week that it has recorded up to 2,782 cases of microencephaly-- or, abnormally small skulls -- in newborns this year, compared to only 147 cases recorded last year. The condition can cause developmental issues and sometimes early death. Doctors are investigating some 29 infant deaths this year from microencephaly.
The cases are believed to have been linked to the mother's infection with the Zika virus while pregnant. The virus is spread by mosquito bite and causes a mild rash and body aches.
Brazil has found cases of microencephaly in 20 of its 27 states, notably in the state of Pernambuco, where there were 1,031 cases and three deaths from the condition. In the state of Paraiba, there were 429 recorded cases and five deaths. Six states, including Pernambuco, have declared states of emergency.
Medical researchers in November announced they had found the Zika virus in a baby born with microencephaly, establishing a link between the virus and the birth condition.
Summer began on Tuesday in the southern hemisphere, and with the rise of warm weather, officials are sending health agents door-to-door with larvicide to help people eliminate potential breeding grounds for mosquitos.
In addition, officials are telling people to put off any pregnancy plans if they can.