Study: Babies with Zika-Related Brain Damage may Appear “Normal”

Disease Research

Recent studies have linked the Zika virus, which is transmitted through mosquitoes and is particularly active in regions of South America, to microcephaly in babies born to women who were pregnant at the time of their infection. However, new studies show that the screening for microcephaly alone might not be enough, as babies appear to be born with brain damage who do not have microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby is born with a smaller-than-average head. In addition to cosmetic abnormalities, this can cause a wide range of developmental and cognitive issues throughout the child’s life. Because the size of the child’s head is often a clue for microcephaly, it can often be detected before delivery.

However, new studies are showing that this isn’t enough and that babies with what appear to be “normal” sized heads can also be brain damaged due to their mother’s infection of the Zika virus.

In the study, published in The Lancet, it showed that 1/5 of babies born to a mother infected with Zika who were classified as “normal” actually had brain damage. This damage could cause death in severe cases and profound intellectual disabilities in others.

Lead author of the study, Cesar Victora, of the Federal University of Pelotas, in Brazil stated in a new release:

“Therefore, the current focus on microcephaly screening alone is too narrow. Although we believe that the underreporting of microcephaly cases is rare during the epidemic, newborns infected with the virus late in pregnancy may go unreported due to their head size being within normal range.”

Those who worked on the study believe that finding a suitable blood test will help assess whether or not pregnant women with Zika symptoms will pass it along to their child. While over 7,000 babies in Brazil have already been born with Zika-linked microcephaly, some babies are born to mothers with Zika with no noticeable differences to any other healthy newborn.

As of June 16, the continental United States had over 265 cases of pregnant women with the Zika virus. Researchers are working to create a vaccine, which would eliminate these issues altogether.