As of our last report on the Zika virus, the number of confirmed cases of infection among those living in the United States was steadily rising and several woman had pregnancies that were likely impacted by the mosquito-borne pathogen.

While President Obama says “not to panic“, the normally glacially responsive Food and Drug Administration took the initial steps to pave the way for the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the fight to eradicate the virus. The agency has just published a draft of its environmental impact study of OX513A, a male Aedes aegypti mosquito genetically modified to pass on a lethal gene to his offspring.

According to the FDA, the release of this GMO male in a Key West suburb as part of a field trial will have “no significant impact” on the health of the local environment or the people who live in it.

“While we didn’t expect anything different, we’re pleased the FDA has now published their data,” said Haydn Parry, CEO of Oxitec, the British company that developed OX513A. “Now we want to get everybody comfortable with the decision.”

This study is one of many that have been quickly generated after news broke of the significant numbers of babies born with microcephaly in South America, as well as the development of neurological conditions post-infection. Researchers now report that Zika virus may be associated with a deadly type of brain inflammation.

Researchers found the Zika virus in the spinal fluid of an 81-year-old man with meningoencephalitis, a dangerous inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain, according to a report from French researchers in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The man had been on a cruise in the South Pacific near New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Additionally, two new studies strengthen the connection between Zika infection and birth defects.

In the first study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that 29 percent of women who had ultrasound examinations after testing positive for infection with the Zika virus had fetuses that suffered “grave outcomes.”

They included fetal death, tiny heads, shrunken placentas and nerve damage that suggested blindness.

….The Brazilian study, which is still in progress, followed 88 pregnant women who visited a fever clinic at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation hospital in Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil’s leading research hospitals, between September and February.

Every woman with a rash, the most characteristic symptom of infection, was tested for the Zika virus, and 72 were positive. The tests looked for the virus itself; they work only if done early in an infection, but are considered more accurate than later tests for antibodies.

Forty-two of the infected women agreed to have a series of ultrasound scans, as did all 16 uninfected women.

… The bleakness of the results was startling. Of the 42 infected women receiving regular ultrasounds, a dozen had babies who died in utero or suffered serious birth defects. Only eight of the babies carried by the 42 women have been born so far, but the ultrasound scans for them turned out to be accurate. None of 16 uninfected women had problems in their scans.

Meanwhile, Kansas becomes the latest state to report a Zika infection, which was likely attained during travel.