Brazilian Doctor Sergio Cortes is an expert when it comes to responding to health emergencies. Dr. Cortes was a State Health Secretary of Rio de Janeiro for seven years, so he was on call night and day. He left that position in 2013, but not before he was called to the flood stricken area of Xerém, Duque de Caxias to determine if there would be a major outbreak of dengue in that area. The streets and homes of Xerém were flooded, and there was debris and waste piling up across the town. The dengue virus is one of the viruses carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Brazil has been plagued by a series of dengue outbreaks through the years so Dr. Cortes knew what had to be done in Xerém to prevent another outbreak.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a breeding machine. That species doesn’t need much water to lay eggs, and Xerém was filled with potential mosquito breeding grounds. Dr. Cortes and his medical team disinfected water and delivered 10,000 bottles of sodium hypochlorite. Bottle water was in short supply, so the team asked for more bottled water donations as well.
But one of the biggest challenges Dr. Cortes would have to face was the May 2015 Zika virus outbreak. When the news of the outbreak was first reported, Dr. Cortes was performing his duties as Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of Rede D’Or São Luiz in Rio de Janeiro. Cortes quickly reacted to the emergency in the Northeastern region of Brazil. What alarmed Dr. Cortes was the number of microcephaly cases that were being reported in the same region. Microcephaly causes shrunken skulls in newborns. Microcephaly babies also have underdeveloped brains. Dr. Cortes knew that microcephaly was usually the result of alcohol abuse or a chromosome disorder in pregnant women, according to a post on his LinkedIn page.
Dr. Cortes and his medical team noticed the babies born in the Zika virus outbreak region had excess skin on their heads and calcified patches that were squeezing their brains. In a typical year that same area of Brazil might report one case of microcephaly a month, but after the Zike outbreak dozens of cases were being reported by local doctors.
It didn’t take long for Dr. Cortes and the emergency team of medical professions to see there was a definite link between Zika and microcephaly. Dr Cortes tweeted that research labs have confirmed that theory.