Teams of U.S. and Brazilian health workers are traveling through the impoverished state of Paraiba in northeastern Brazil looking for study participants to potentially link or refute the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly.
Teams seek 100 mothers who have given birth to children with microcephaly
The state of Paraiba has seen a recent outbreak of both microcephaly and the Zika virus. Consequently, this area holds interest for the eight teams that have been dispatched to Paraiba to hunt down the potential link between the dual outbreaks. Each team is comprised of a “disease detective from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and three Brazilian health workers.
In addition to the 100 mothers of children born with microcephaly, the teams will need to enroll between 200 and 300 mothers who have given birth to children without the birth defect to act as a control for the study.
The goal of the study is by no means to find a link but to determine if there is one at all. Many doctors are shying away from a link between the two in both Brazil and beyond.
While a straightforward task, the teams’ work has been hampered by traffic, rain and the meandering alley’s of some of the poorer neighborhoods in the State’s capital of Joao Pessoa
“Obviously, we’ve seen the problems of logistics — to be able to reach the families, to have them be there,” Dr. Alexia Harrist, a Boston-born pediatrician who works for the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, told the Associated Press. “If things take longer, things take longer, but I think we’re all really dedicated to getting it done.”
Zika Teams remain confident despite hurdles
Despite not being able to drive their sedan through the center of the Taipa slum of Joao Pessoa, the team remained undeterred in their search and embarked on foot into Taipa.
“I didn’t expect to see all these people,” resident Janine dos Santos who recently gave birth to a child with microcephaly, told AP.
“Not only me, but all the mothers, we want to understand the mystery behind all this — what really causes microcephaly?”
Janine dos Santos immediately agreed to participate in the study and answer a thorough questionnaire that included extensive questions on her pregnancy as well as where the family got its drinking water. The team then drew blood from both her and her son.
Later, the team went down the street where they encountered a number of people who were happy to participate as a control group having been in the same area and recently given birth to health children at the same time as a disproportionate amount of people were giving birth to children with microcephaly.
“When I was pregnant, there were all these problems with Zika and microcephaly and … I could very well be in the place of any mother whose baby has microcephaly,” said 26-year-old Aline Ferreira after agreeing to help the team.
The team expect their work to take about a month but from their early experiences recognized that this might prove difficult. When others study the collected data they should need a few months before drawing any conclusions.
“I’m actually encouraged by what happened today,” said Harrist, who also worked in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and is no stranger to devastation and outbreaks.