Updated
September 25th, 2019

Zika Exposure While Pregnant Associated with Microcephaly

Zika Virus Infection During Pregnancy Causes Neurodevelopmental Damage to Infected Infants

new born baby

A new study focused on the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil during 2015-2016 reported there was long-term neurodevelopmental damage to infected infants. 

This study of 216 children published in the journal Nature Medicine shows that a very small number of children born without symptoms of Microcephaly went on to develop the condition as an infant. 

And, the infants who were exposed to the Zika virus while their mothers’ were pregnant, found that they suffered developmental delays and other problems, even if they were born without the abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains often associated with Microcephaly. 

Below-average neurodevelopment and/or abnormal eye or hearing assessments were noted in 31.5 percent of children, between 7 and 32 months of age. 

Of this group of children, language function was most affected, with 35 percent of children testing below average. 

Furthermore, these researchers noted a higher rate of autism among children exposed to the Zika virus.

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“You can’t just look at them when they’re born and say they don’t have microcephaly and they look normal and they’re fine, because there are repercussions for the developing brain,” said lead author Karin Nielsen, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of California at Los Angeles, reported the Washington Post.  

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Dr. Neilsen noted these children living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, should be watched for developmental problems because “if you see that these children are at risk for bad neurodevelopmental outcomes, you can implement measures” to help them.

This study is important since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to report travel-related Zika virus cases in California, Florida, and Utah during 2019.

But, the good news is that during 2018 and 2019, there was no local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission reported in the continental United States, reports the CDC.

The CDC hosts a web directory of countries reporting Zika virus cases.

This study was supported by the Departamento de Ciência e Tecnologia do Ministério da Saúde do Brasil.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed with these researchers.