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Infants exposed to Zika have varying health outcomes

The virus affects toddlers differently, according to researchers

Photo (c) farland9 - Fotolia
A new study has revealed the very different ways exposure to the Zika virus as an infant can manifest by the time the children become toddlers. 

In a test involving infants that had been exposed to Zika in utero, researchers discovered that those who were born with Zika-related abnormalities had outgrown them a few years later, whereas those born free of any signs of Zika later experienced health complications. 

“It’s heartening that some babies born with abnormalities tested in the normal range later in life, though it’s unclear whether any specific interventions help to deliver these positive findings,” said researcher Dr. Sarah B. Mulkey. “And it’s quite sobering that babies who appeared normal at birth went on to develop abnormalities due to that early Zika exposure.” 

What exposure to Zika can look like

Dr. Mulkey and her team followed over 200 infants, all of whom had been exposed to the Zika virus in utero during an outbreak in Brazil. 

While all of the infants’ mothers showed visible signs of the Zika virus, not all of the babies did upon birth, so the researchers followed their health status and gave them regular check-ups from the time they were seven months until they were just shy of three years old. 

Perhaps the most notable finding from this study was how exposure to the Zika virus changed over time for many of these infants. Of the 216 infants involved in the study, 25 percent were born showing no abnormalities related to Zika, despite their mothers’ exposure to the virus; however, these children showed difficulties on both vision and hearing tests during assessments at 32 months. 

Conversely, nearly 50 percent of infants born with Zika-related abnormalities -- which included issues with fine motor skills, language abilities, and cognitive functioning -- saw their issues dissipate by the time they were 32 months old.

The researchers explained that the earlier in the pregnancy a woman is exposed to Zika, the greater the risk that the baby is born with abnormalities. However, they are unsure why this particular trend emerged from this study. Ultimately, the team encourages parents to continually test toddlers who were exposed to Zika in the womb, as it could be crucial to getting them the resources they need as early as possible. 

“This study adds to the growing body of research that argues in favor of ongoing follow-up for Zika-exposed children, even if their neurologic exams were reassuring at birth,” said Dr. Mulkey. “As Zika-exposed children approach school age, it’s critical to better characterize the potential implications for the education system and public health.” 

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