Media coverage surrounding the Zika virus outbreak and its link to microcephaly in newborns continue as the number of cases continue to grow including a recent article on the discovery of infected mosquitos found in the state of Florida.
What exactly are the facts?
Zika virus disease is a virus which is primarily transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes that were first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys. The rates of human infections were reported across Africa and Asia from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. It wasn’t until 2015 however when Brazil reported a direct association between the Zika virus and microcephaly. Since then, the number of people infected has grown in alarming rates including the number of children born with microcephaly.
Typically, the Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. These types of mosquitos are generally found in tropical environments. The virus can also be transmitted through sexual activity and can be detected in body fluids including blood, urine, amniotic fluids, semen, saliva and spinal cord fluids.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms may include a slight fever which may appear a few days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Other signs may include conjunctivitis, and muscle and joint pain. The symptoms typically last between 2-7 days. There is currently no cure for the virus.
What is the relationship between the Zika virus and Microcephaly?
The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) confirmed the Zika virus infection during pregnancy does cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.
What is Microcephaly?
Microcephaly is defined as a medical condition where the brain does not grow properly resulting in a smaller than normal size head.
Often, microcephaly can be diagnosed during pregnancy using an ultrasound test. This is generally done late in the 2nd trimester or early in the third trimester. After a baby is born, a health practitioner will measure the distance around the baby’s head and compare the measurements to the general population standards. Severe microcephaly occurs when the baby’s brain has not developed during pregnancy.
Microcephaly is considered rare. In the United States, microcephaly occurs from 2 babies per 10,000 live births to 12 per 10,000 live births. An estimated 25,000 births per year. However, the rates in Brazil have jumped from 0.04 percent to 1.9 percent within the last year.
Besides the Zika virus, microcephaly may be caused by:
- German measles
- Chicken pox
- Exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Decreased oxygen to the fetal brain
- Severe malnutrition
- Gene deletion i.e. DiGeorge syndrome
Children born with microcephaly may not show any signs or symptoms initially, but may develop the following later:
- cerebral palsy
- intellectual disabilities
- learning disabilities
- hearing impairments
- visual impairments
There is currently no treatment for microcephaly. Early intervention is vital for the growth and development of the child.
CDC- Build a Prevention Kit-Provides information on reducing the risk of Zika by creating a prevention kit.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – This site provides information on Zika travel notices and countries with the endemic including guidelines for traveler’s visiting family and friends in the affected area.
Live Coverage– complete coverage of the outbreak
U.S. Department of State– Maintains an updated status notice on the virus.
The following medical sites provide additional information on microcephaly including causes, symptoms, test and diagnosis:
- Boston Children’s Hospital
- Mayo Clinic
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- World Health Organization (WHO)
Cortical Foundation– Dedicated to providing services to educate, advocate, support and improve awareness of cortical malformations
Foundation for Children with Microcephaly– A website created to help and inform parents and families of children who have been diagnosed with microcephaly
Selected News Articles
The following are selected articles on the Zika Virus and Microcephaly:
A mothers battle: Surviving microcephaly in Brazil.
Microcephaly: “It’s not the end of the world.”
Protecting pregnant women in the U.S. from Zika is a top priority, Official says.
Sesame Street’s Elmo and Raya warn kids about Zika
Scientists determine how Zika virus causes brain defects and microcephaly
Zika Revealed: Here’s what a brain-cell killing virus looks like