Beyond microcephaly: 5 things to know about congenital Zika syndrome

One year after Brazil's Zika outbreak began a surge in microcephaly — a rare neurological birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads — infants affected by Zika are developing added complications not commonly attributable to the birth defect alone. Physicians are calling the condition congenital Zika syndrome.

A recent Associated Press report relayed by The Seattle Times examined the health challenges infants born with Zika-related microcephaly have faced in their first year of life.

Here are five things to know about congenital Zika syndrome.

1. In addition to microcephaly, which can greatly hinder physical and intellectual development, babies with congenital Zika syndrome experience issues not typically attributable to microcephaly when caused by other infections like German measles and herpes.

2. Vanessa Van der Linden, MD, a pediatric neurologist in Recife, Brazil, one of the first physicians to suspect that Zika was linked microcephaly, has treated many infants born with the Zika-related birth defect. She told the Associated Press, "We are seeing a lot of seizures. And now they are having many problems eating, so a lot of these children start using feeding tubes."

3. In addition to epileptic seizures and difficulties swallowing, babies with congenital Zika syndrome are encountering hearing and vision difficulties. Also, approximately 7 percent of the infants treated by Dr. Van der Linden's team born with Zika-related microcephaly were also born with arm and leg deformities not previously linked to microcephaly.

4. Some infants born with normal-sized heads to Zika-infected mothers encounter developmental problems later. Sometimes these infants' heads stop growing proportionately. One of the infants Dr. Van der Linden treats has difficulty moving his left hand.

5. According to the Associated Press, researchers in Brazil are working to determine if the timing of the infection during pregnancy influences the severity of Zika-related defects. Researchers funded by the United States' National Institutes of Health are following three groups of infants to understand the breadth of Zika's developmental influence. Babies being tracked include those born with microcephaly, those born with normal-sized heads found to have brain damage or other physical problems later on and infants born to Zika-infected mothers that have experienced no discernable defects to date.

More articles on the Zika virus: 
Puerto Rico sees third Zika-related death 
Zika cases near 4,000 in US 
New research strengthens link between Zika and Guillain-Barre

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