Prenatal Zika Exposure Lead to 14.5% of Infants Reporting Health Issues

Zika cases reported in Puerto Rico, California, and Florida during 2018

mom and infant enjoying the park

Researchers from Brazil said that 14.5 percent of children exposed to the Zika virus during their mother’s pregnancy displayed at least 1 medical issue related to vision, hearing, language, motor skill, or cognitive function. 

This new research is helpful in understanding the long-term impact of the Zika virus on infants. 

This article published on December 13, 2018, in the New England Journal of Medicine wrote that by 18 months of age these 131 infants who were exposed to Zika in utero and who underwent imaging, neurodevelopmental assessment, sensory organ assessment, or all of these tests, 19 (14%) were found to have severe neurodevelopmental delay, sensory organ dysfunction, or both. 

Specifically, this study reported these infants had: 

  • Hearing problems - 12.2 percent,
  • Delays in language, motor skills, or cognitive function - 11.7 percent,
  • Eye abnormalities - 6.25 percent.

Additionally, a significant association was noted between normal results on brain imaging and higher Bayley-IIIscores, neuroimaging did not predict developmental delay in 2 percent of children and normal development in 16 percent of children by the time they were 18 months old. 

Another study published in JAMA on November 26, 2018, reported 7 of 53 (13 percent) Zika-exposed infants had mild brain abnormalities after birth. 

These studies results are similar to data reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during August 2018. 

The CDC said about 10 percent of infants of women with confirmed Zika virus infection during pregnancy in US states had Zika-associated birth defects.   

There is limited information available about the risk of Zika infection during 8 weeks before conception or 6 weeks before the last menstrual period (periconceptional time frame).

Earlier reports suggested there may be adverse outcomes associated with Zika virus infection in early pregnancy, such as microcephaly. 

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected, says the CDC.   

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The CDC says there is information from other viral infections occurring around the time of conception which indicates there are associations between periconceptional infections and adverse outcomes, although the timing of infection and conception in these cases was often unknown. 

The CDC continues to issue Travel Alerts warning visitors to Zika endemic areas, such as Mexico, Brazil, India, and the Caribean Islands to take precautions. 

The CDC is especially advising women to avoid these Zika areas while pregnant.

As of December 4, 2018, the CDC had reported Zika cases in Puerto Rico (114), California (23), and Florida (10).

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This study was a prospective cohort study involving symptomatic pregnant women who had Zika infection confirmed by reverse-transcriptase–polymerase-chain-reaction assay.

The study was approved by the institutional review boards at Fundação Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro and the University of California, Los Angeles, and all the women provided written informed consent for themselves and their children. 

No conflicts of interest were disclosed by these researchers.