BMC Public Health, January 12, 2018

Wayner Vieira de Souza, Maria de Fátima Pessoa Militão de Albuquerque, Enrique Vazquez, Luciana Caroline Albuquerque Bezerra, Antonio da Cruz Gouveia Mendes, Tereza Maciel Lyra, Thalia Velho Barreto de Araujo, André Luiz Sá de Oliveira, Maria Cynthia Braga, Ricardo Arraes de Alencar Ximenes, Demócrito de Barros Miranda-Filho, Amanda Priscila de Santana Cabral Silva, Laura Rodrigues and Celina Maria Turchi Martelli



Starting in August 2015, there was an increase in the number of cases of neonatal microcephaly in Northeast Brazil. These findings were identified as being an epidemic of microcephaly related to Zika virus (ZIKV) infection. The present study aims to analyse the spatial distribution of microcephaly cases in Recife (2015–2016), which is in Northeast Brazil, and its association with the living conditions in this city.


This was an ecological study that used data from reported cases of microcephaly from the State Health Department of Pernambuco (August 2015 to July 2016). The basic spatial unit of analysis was the 94 districts of Recife. The case definition of microcephaly was: neonates with a head circumference of less than the cut-off point of −2 standard deviations below the mean value from the established Fenton growth curve. As an indicator of the living conditions of the 94 districts, the percentage of heads of households with an income of less than twice the minimum wage was calculated. The districts were classified into four homogeneous strata using the K-means clustering algorithm. We plotted the locations of each microcephaly case over a layer of living conditions.


During the study period, 347 microcephaly cases were reported, of which 142 (40.9%) fulfilled the definition of a microcephaly case. Stratification of the 94 districts resulted in the identification of four strata. The highest stratum in relation to the living conditions presented the lowest prevalence rate of microcephaly, and the overall difference between this rate and the rates of the other strata was statistically significant. The results of the Kruskal-Wallis test demonstrated that there was a strong association between a higher prevalence of microcephaly and poor living conditions. After the first 6 months of the study period, there were no microcephaly cases recorded within the population living in the richest socio-economic strata.


This study showed that those residing in areas with precarious living conditions had a higher prevalence of microcephaly compared with populations with better living conditions.

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