Blog

New Study Finds Babies Harmed by Zika Virus Even After “Normal” Births

2 Min Read

a pregnant woman and a man hold hands

A recent study found that some infants who were exposed to Zika virus — but were born apparently healthy — are showing signs of impairment within a year after birth. Zika virus can cause complications that lead to cerebral palsy or other health problems. This emphasizes the importance of regularly following up to check for long-term effects of Zika virus on babies.

What is Zika Virus?

Zika virus is similar to yellow fever, West Nile virus, and dengue fever. It is mostly transmitted through mosquito bites. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to the fetus she is carrying if she is bitten by an infected mosquito while pregnant.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Red eyes

Symptoms last for up to a week and people are not usually sick enough to go to the hospital. While adults rarely die of Zika, it can seriously damage unborn fetuses.

Sadly, many people — including expectant mothers — infected with Zika virus don’t even know they have it because the symptoms are often very mild.

What Happens to Babies With Zika Virus?

When Zika is passed from an expectant mother to an unborn child, it can cause birth defects.

For example, the baby may suffer from microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller on average than others of the same sex and age.

Babies born with microcephaly will likely have smaller brains that may not develop properly.

Microcephaly and Child Development

Children with microcephaly may have different levels of disability. Some children may not experience any developmental delays at all.

Other children with microcephaly may experience:

  • Delayed speech
  • Delayed motor functions
  • Dwarfism or short stature
  • Neurological abnormalities
  • Vision and hearing problems

There is no treatment to reverse the condition except for some surgeries. Speech, physical, and occupational therapy are often used to help children who are affected.

Many babies born with microcephaly may not demonstrate any symptoms at birth and might go on to live normal lives. Yet since microcephaly can damage the brain, it can also cause cerebral palsy.

Others with microcephaly may suffer from epilepsy or other learning disabilities, conditions that often appear alongside cerebral palsy.

Long-Term Effects of Zika Virus on Babies

A study that included pregnant women exposed to Zika virus in Columbia monitored fetal MRIs and ultrasounds throughout the pregnancies and after the babies were born.

The results showed:

  • 77 out of 82 babies were born with no sign of congenital Zika syndrome
  • 70 of the 77 seemingly healthy babies had follow-up testing at 4-8 months or 9-18 months
  • The children who had follow-up testing showed declines in mobility and social cognition after the first year of life

Researchers involved with the study stated:

“Our findings underscore the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all infants exposed to Zika in the womb undergo long-term follow-up [testing], providing an opportunity to intervene earlier.”

Considering the new study, it is extremely important for all babies who may have been exposed to Zika virus to be monitored for possible long-term effects. This may help prevent cerebral palsy or other life-impairing health conditions.

Birth Injury Support Team
Tara NelsonWritten by:

Contributing Author

A member of the Medical Writers Association, Tara Nelson has helped businesses transform complex information into clear and engaging writing for nearly a decade. She is also a passionate advocate for the underprivileged, having volunteered at nonprofits like Easterseals and Bridges to Success, a scholarship program for college students from diverse backgrounds. With her extensive experience writing and editing, Tara works hard to ensure that all Birth Injury Justice Center online content is accessible, accurate, and helpful.

View 4 Sources
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Microcephaly and Other Birth Defects.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/zika/healtheffects/birth_defects.html. Accessed on February 13, 2020.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Zika Virus.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/overview.html. Accessed on February 13, 2020.
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “What is the Zika Virus?” Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/zika-virus/what-is-zika-virus.html. Accessed on February 13, 2020.
  4. U.S. News & World Report. (January 10, 2020). “Zika Damage Showing Up in Babies Deemed 'Normal' at Birth.” Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-01-10/zika-damage-showing-up-in-babies-deemed-normal-at-birth. Accessed on February 13, 2020.