By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Health Ministry in Brazil announced on Tuesday that more than three thousand cases of microcephaly linked to the Zika virus were reported in the country as of January 2nd. Although most cases have been found in the Northeastern part of the country, 21 Brazilian states and the country’s capital, Brasília, have reported at least one case of the abnormality.

Brazilian laboratories are working extra shifts to process all suspected Zika virus cases in newborn babies with microcephaly
Brazilian laboratories are working extra shifts to process all suspected Zika virus cases in newborn babies with microcephaly, photo by Carla Ornelas/Government of the state of Bahia.

According to the ministry, cases of microcephaly, skyrocketed in 2015 and a link between the birth defect and the Zika virus, transmitted by the same mosquito which also carries the dengue fever virus was confirmed in late November.

At least 38 deaths in 2015 of newborns with microcephaly are being investigated to see if they are linked to the Zika virus. In the entire year of 2014 only 147 cases of microcephaly were reported in the country.

The state of Pernambuco continues to be the location with the highest number of suspected cases (1,185) and for the first time a case in the state of Amazonas has been reported. According to the ministry, visits to residences and possible breeding grounds for the mosquito Aedes Aegypti have been increased, and the help of the Armed Forces has been used for the mobilization against the virus-carrying insect.

The government agency also reported that an additional 17.9 tons of Larvicida, an insecticide, has been sent to several states in the Northeast and Southeast, totaling 114.4 tons of the insecticide distributed to treat more than 57.2 billion liters of water. For 2016 more than 100 tons have been purchased, which, according to the ministry should be used until June.

Microcephaly is characterized by the abnormal smallness of the head, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development. The Zika virus was first detected in Africa in the 1940s but was relatively unknown in the Americas until last year.

The disease has been confirmed in other countries as well as Brazil, including, Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Guatemala and Paraguay, according Reuters.

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