Zika Impacts on Fetuses & Newborns Pile Up

     (CN) — Researchers have found that the Zika virus can affect fetuses later in pregnancy than previously thought, and that the virus remains in newborns for months after they’re born.
     The findings, which were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, are the latest development in the saga of the Zika virus, which has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and has gained a foothold in Florida as well.
     Zika poses the greatest risk to pregnant women, given its connection to a range of birth defects.
     Brazilian researchers analyzed the case of a baby born to a mother who contracted Zika in the seventh month of her pregnancy. Contracting the virus in the third trimester has been thought to be less dangerous fetuses than in the first trimester, but this new case may invalidate this theory.
     “On Jan. 2, 2016, a male child was born with microcephaly in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at 40 weeks of gestation to a mother who reported having symptoms associated with Zika virus infection during the 26th week of pregnancy,” the team says.
     Microcephaly, a congenital disorder that leads to babies having abnormally small heads and potential brain damage, is the primary effect of Zika on infants.
     “The presence of Zika virus infection has been associated with microcephaly in multiple studies, although little is known about Zika shedding in congenitally infected infants. We report a case of a newborn who had continued viremia (the presence of the virus) with Zika for at least 67 days after birth,” the report says.
     The baby weighed 6.6 pounds at birth, with a head circumference of 32.5 centimeters — barely smaller than the 33 centimeters the World Health Organization considers average.
     Due to the average size of the baby, doctors initially did not recognize any signs of neurological or physical abnormalities. However, an MRI showed reduced brain parenchyma — which includes all of the functional tissue in the brain — and calcification in the subcortical area.
     The infant also displayed developmental delays: he was floppy and uncoordinated for his age, in addition to having cerebral palsy.
     “When the infant was examined on day 54, he had no obvious illness or evidence of any immunocompromising condition,” they wrote.
     About two months after he was born, the baby’s saliva, blood and urine all tested positive for Zika.
     Two weeks later — 67 days after he was born — the baby’s blood still had evidence of Zika itself, as opposed to antibodies, which last in a person’s system long after a virus dies. Seven months later, the blood was clear and the baby only had Zika antibodies.
     The team said that an immune condition might explain a prolonged infection.
     They believe that the baby’s father impregnated his wife after traveling to Brazil’s northeastern region — an area hard-hit by Zika — a few weeks before. The virus can remain in a man’s semen for months, and both the mother and father tested positive for the virus.
     The findings may also indicate that a woman’s fetus can send bits of the virus back to her through the placenta.
     If the virus causes long-lasting infections in newborns, it could indicate that it continues attacking the brain — and potentially other tissues — even after birth.
     There’s no established way to protect babies in the womb from Zika, and there’s no treatment for a baby born with brain damage.

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