Zika virus affecting teenage mothers in Brazil

Zika virus transmitted by mosquitoes is affecting scores of teenage girls in the latest Brazilian Zika outbreak. The consequences of this could be serious say experts.

Image Credit: Nussar / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Nussar / Shutterstock

Zika virus affects the babies of pregnant mothers leading to severe disabilities and mental retardation requiring constant lifelong care. Most teenage girls do not have access to information and good antenatal care when they are pregnant. This leaves this population at a very vulnerable state. Most of these teenage pregnancies are unplanned and thus there is a high risk that their babies are born with severe afflictions.

Zika virus spreads via mosquito bites. Due to poor health and sanitation conditions the mosquitoes continue to thrive and spread the virus. The virus itself may lead to mild illness in the mother. But in the unborn baby it can have serious consequences leading to anenchephaly or lack of a brain or microcephaly or a much smaller brain. There are other birth defects as well such as hearing problems, deformed limbs, convulsions or seizures etc.

Reports show that nearly 20% of births in Brazil are in girls who are between 10 and 19 years of age. This translates to over 560,000 births per year. According to surveys in Brazil among a thousand girls aged between 15 and 19 years, it was found that 21% were not using any method of contraception and only 17% visited any health clinic for information regarding prevention of unwanted pregnancy, abortions and prenatal care if pregnant. Further abortion is not an available option in Brazil where it is illegal unless the woman has been raped or has a life threatening condition or the fetus has a congenital condition where its brain has not developed. On the flip side this has given rise to unsafe and illegal abortions that can be severely dangerous for the girls and could lead to lifelong infertility, serious infections and even death. More illegal abortions were sought by women in Brazil during the Zika virus outbreak.

It is thus evident that teenage girls are forced to carry on with their pregnancies. Further teenage girls who have been afflicted with Zika virus face more dire consequences with babies born with Zika syndrome and lack of government support.

The poor water and sanitation conditions continue to fan the Zika virus spread in Brazil and the spread remains active. This May Brazil had declared an end of this public health menace after 18 months passed since the peak of cases. But a health activist group Human Rights Watch warns of a looming threat of a new outbreak. It says that Brazil has not done enough to ensure continuous clean water supply or access to good sanitation to combat this public health emergency. Water supply is not ensured for over one third of the population who store the water in tanks that form breeding grounds for the mosquitoes if they are not covered or treated appropriately.

The report urges the government to take heed of the teen mothers and also decriminalize abortions so that babies with Zika syndrome are not born to teenage girls. More support is sought for babies born with Zika syndrome.

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