US health officials declare Zika cause of severe birth defects

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CDC: Zika Threat Spreads in U.S.


(Reuters) - U.S. health officials have concluded that infection with the Zika virus in pregnant women is a cause of the birth defect microcephaly and other severe brain abnormalities in babies.

"It is now clear, the CDC has concluded, that Zika virus does cause microcephaly," Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "There isn't any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly."

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US health officials declare Zika cause of severe birth defects
Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in containers at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, on January 8, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal are in Brazil to train local researchers to combat the Zika virus epidemic. / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are kept in a container at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Aedes aegypti is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus. The Brazilian government announced it will direct funds to a biomedical research center to help develop a vaccine against the Zika virus linked to brain damage in babies. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Aedes aegypti is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus. The Brazilian government announced it will direct funds to a biomedical research center to help develop a vaccine against the Zika virus linked to brain damage in babies. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
CORRECTS CDC IS INVESTIGATING WHETHER AEDES ALBOPICTUS SPREADS THE ZIKA VIRUS, NOT DEFINITIVE - This 2003 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes albopictus mosquito acquiring a blood meal from a human host. On Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, U.S. health officials are telling pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin America and Caribbean countries with outbreaks of a tropical illness linked to birth defects. The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites from Aedes aegypti and the CDC is investigating whether it is also spread by Aedes albopictus. The disease causes only a mild illness in most people. But thereâs been mounting evidence linking the virus to a surge of a rare birth defect in Brazil. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)
A researcher holds a container with female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Aedes aegypti is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus. The Brazilian government announced it will direct funds to a biomedical research center to help develop a vaccine against the Zika virus linked to brain damage in babies. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cementery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the Nueva Esperanza graveyard as it is fumigated in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
A specialist fumigates the Nueva Esperanza graveyard in the outskirts of Lima on January 15, 2016. Health officials fumigated the largest cemetery in Peru and second largest in the world to prevent Chikunguya and Zika virus, which affect several South American countries. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
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U.S. and world health officials have been saying for some time that mounting scientific evidence points to the mosquito-born virus as the likely cause of the alarming rise in microcephaly in Zika-hit areas of Brazil. It had not been declared as the definitive cause until now.

Never before in history has a bite from a mosquito been seen as the cause of birth defects, Frieden said.

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