A MYSTERIOUS virus linked to babies born with shrunken heads is spreading across the globe – and it's right on Britain's doorstep.
A mutant new super-strain of the zika virus has been blamed for a 1,400% spike in cases of microcephaly – a bizarre disorder where babies are born with abnormally small brains.
The virus – carried by mosquitos – has spread across Africa, Asia and south and central America – with cases now confirmed in the US and Europe.Some areas of Brazil – which is hosting the Rio 2016 Olympics in August – have declared a state of emergency after linking microcephaly to the zika epidemic.
Most children born with microcephaly usually die young and those who survive have serious brain damage for life.
Sufferers can be born with a small or normal size head.
Their face develops at a normal rate but the skull fails to grow, leaving the child with an unusually small head and receding forehead.
As they get older the smallness of the skull becomes more and more obvious.Brazil's health ministry has linked a massive increase in the condition – 3,000 last year, up from just 200 in 2014 – on a zika epidemic.
Zika – for which there is no cure or treatment – usually only causes a fever and red rash in infected adults.
But the virus has been found in the placenta of babies born with microcephaly and most women who have borne microcephalic children reported zika symptoms during pregnancy.
The dangers are thought to be so serious Brazilian doctors have been warning women against getting pregnant at the moment.
Zika was discovered in Uganda, east Africa, in 1947.
|SIZE MATTERS: A normal brain and a microcephalic brain|
It spread across Africa and Asia – India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia – but the first case outside the two continents was only recorded in 2007.
Since then it has spread like wildfire across the world – with tourists bringing the virus back to the US, the Netherlands and Germany.
Doctors are yet to prove how zika causes microcephaly and previous zika epidemics have not been linked to an increase in microcephaly – but it may just have gone unnoticed.
|MEASURE: Baby Luiza's head is an inch shorter in diameter than normal|
Dr Alain Kohl, a virologist at the University of Glasgow who studies zika, has suggested a new strain of the virus may have emerged.
And he warned the carrier mosquitos are in Europe right now.
Dr Kohl told the Daily Star Online: "Some of the mosquitos that are potentially able to transmit the virus are present in parts of Europe, for example the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes Albopictus.
"These have been in the past responsible for small outbreaks of [tropical diseases] dengue and chikungunya in parts of southern Europe after the virus was imported – so in some areas there is a possible risk."
|MICROCEPHALY: Little Jose Wesley was born with microcephaly in Brazil|