New Research Shows Zika Causes Health Problems Long After Birth

As much of the initial hype and panic over the Zika virus has died down, we aren't hearing as much about it in the news anymore. We may hear an occasional case here and there and note a stray person who we heard of who traveled somewhere and picked it up, but overall, Zika has mostly left our minds. 

Unfortunately, however, Zika is still affecting women and children across the world and the long-term effects of the virus are just now rearing their ugly heads. According to new research released by the CDC, babies who were infected with the Zika virus over a year ago, either while their mothers were still pregnant, or as newborns, are showing new symptoms of the virus now past their first birthdays. And their symptoms are a sign to scientists and world health experts that there is still a lot we have to learn about the Zika virus. 

zika
Image via Unsplash/ Armen Chlchatian

The new data released came from more than 4,800 pregnancies in the US territories, which included American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Puerto Rico, Republic of Marshall Islands, and the US Virgin Islands that had a confirmed or possible infection with the Zika virus from 2016 to 2018. Of those pregnancies, 1,450 of the babies were now a year old and had entered into follow-up care to assess for problems from the virus.

Six percent of the babies who had known or suspected Zika infection had health concerns that were apparent right at birth in the form of a birth defect, such as brain damage, a decreased head size, or eye problems, while nine percent showed immediate nervous system damage that caused issued with swallowing, moving, or developmental delays. 

But the results also showed that some of the issues that were linked to Zika were not immediately apparent at birth, meaning that even that babies that appeared “fine” at birth had issues later on as they grew. For example, about 1 in 3 of the babies they studied had eye problems that warranted further medical assessment or treatment. 

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Doctors found that the Zika infection caused health conditions that included:

  • birth defects
  • problems with vision and hearing
  • seizures
  • developmental delays

So, what does all of this mean? It essentially means that any woman who was or will be traveling to a Zika-infested area before or during her pregnancy, or has a sexual partner who could be exposed should not only be on the lookout for possible symptoms at birth for their babies but also later on. If you traveled to a Zika-infested area during your pregnancy, for instance, and your baby was born without showing any symptoms, it is important that you still let a doctor know so that he or she can follow your child and monitor for any possible health-related conditions as they approach their 1st birthday. 

Currently, the CDC suggests that all infants with known or suspected Zika infection typically have the following tests, which can help diagnose a potential issue and may have to be repeated at the baby's first birthday or later:

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  • Physical exams
  • Eye exams
  • Brain imaging exams
  • Developmental screening
  • Hearing tests

The bottom line is that the newest data shows that even for babies who appear healthy, if there is any chance that a Zika infection may have taken place during your pregnancy, it is helpful to let your doctor know and to let any doctors caring for your child after he or she is born know, too. Early screening and tests, especially eye exams that may not typically be done until later on in your child's life, may help identify problems early on and get your child the help that they need. 

You can also assess your child's development by checking important physical and developmental milestones for your baby's age with the CDC's milestones to identify if there may be a delay. In general, the earlier the intervention, the greater difference that can be made to assist your child with any resources that can help. 

The threat of Zika may have (thankfully) calmed for the time being, but as this data shows, the impact of the virus could still be making an appearance as the babies of moms who were infected begin to grow. But spreading the word about how the virus can affect children, even in later life, can make a difference. 

What do you think?

New Research Shows Zika Causes Health Problems Long After Birth

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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