ON 13 JANUARY, in Recife, a coastal city in north-eastern Brazil, 35-year-old Carol Calabria threw a big party for the birthday of her one-year-old daughter, Lis. She rented out a space in a chic district, decorated it with balloons, invited many children and their mothers, and even hired a professional photographer.
But the birthday girl did not enjoy the day as Carol hoped she would. Throughout the party, Lis was nervous and agitated, as were many of the other children in attendance. One reason for their discomfort was that they have microcephaly—abnormally small heads and associated neurological defects, such as intellectual disability and poor motor function. The children were all born to women who had been infected with Zika: a mosquito-borne virus that can cause pregnant women to give birth to babies with microcephaly.
Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state, is the epicentre of Brazil’s Zika epidemic, which has rocked the country over the past two years. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of live births of microcephalic babies in Brazil was stable, at an average of 164 per year. But in 2015 alone, there were 1,608 such births registered nationwide. In Pernambuco alone, from August 2015 through July 2016, there were 376.