The Zika virus is far more damaging and scarier than previously thought.
This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed long-held suspicions that the virus causes microcephaly in infants as well as other major brain-related birth defects, a discovery officials called a "turning point" in a scientific understanding of the disease.
The link was confirmed in the results of a New England Journal of Medicine study. Formally establishing the connection does not mean all pregnant women infected with Zika will give birth to an infant with microcephaly, the CDC stressed in an announcement, but the confirmation represents a vital milestone in preventive care for Zika.
"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," CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D. said in the statement. "We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public."
Researchers in Brazil have also investigated a link between Zika and a second congenital brain issue, according to The Washington Post: acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), which has been observed in two Zika patients. ADEM is often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, and is defined by brief, acute attacks following a viral or bacterial infection. While it's rarely fatal, ADEM often leads to lifelong cognitive difficulties or vision problems.
"Most of what we've learned is not reassuring," CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told the Post. "Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought."
The virus could also hurt business in the U.S., regardless of how far it actually spreads, according to Computer World. In affected regions, businesses are already encountering staffing shortages and employee reluctance to travel.