With Brazil reporting about 4,000 cases of microcephaly towards the end of last year, which is unprecedented in the history of the virus; experts are left with little or no time to establish a link.
The World Health Organization has already declared the disease a public health emergency; calling for a concerted effort towards finding a solution to the outbreak.
Despite not have an exact clue on what causes the rise in the virus, experts understand the need to find an urgent solution to the outbreak, which is projected to reach close to 4 million people.
Dr Anthony Costello, the WHO’s expert on microcephaly, says finding an answer quickly is imperative.
“We must assume, given global travel and the like, that this could spread into many other populations as well.
“What we have picked up is a surge in cases of microcephaly in two areas where Zika virus has broken out. First in French Polynesia last year and now, to a much greater extent, in Brazil.
“We do not know about cases yet in other areas.”
The outbreak is unprecedented, with more than 20 countries in the Americas having reported cases of the virus. The World Health Organization believes that it is likely to spread “explosively” across nearly all of the Americas; making it absolutely urgent to find a solution.
Dr Costello says there will be a lag time of several months to know if pregnant women in countries where the virus has hit a lot of people for the first time are safe.
The race to find a more effective diagnostic test and a vaccine and treatment for the virus as well as linking it with what is causing babies in those affected countries to fall ill.
In the United States, microcephaly is now a new condition, with official reports suggesting that two to 12 babies per 10,000 born each year suffer from the condition—which puts the figure at 25,000 babies every year.
Microcephaly can also be caused by other infections caught in pregnancy, such as rubella. Other factors that have been linked are; drug and alcohol abuse by expectant mothers, as well as rare genetic conditions.
Research scientists are faced with the task of establishing what is behind each new case.
The BBC reports that research using animal model is needed to determine if the Zika virus causes damage to an unborn infant when infection occurs during pregnancy and at what stage, as well as studies of pregnant women who have unfortunately been infected with the virus to establish the outcomes of their pregnancies.
Dr Costello said: “We desperately need to have better diagnostics for Zika virus so that we can look very carefully, if you get pregnant and you get infected, at what is the risk of getting microcephaly.
“At the moment we don’t exactly know what the risk is.”