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Congenital Zika Syndrome Is Now Officially A Thing, As The Virus Continues To Spread


It’s been known for some time now that the Zika virus has been linked to multiple devastating birth defects, such as microcephaly, which results in unusually small heads and undeveloped brains. Now, as the virus continues to spread within more than 45 countries worldwide, researchers have officially concluded that microcephaly and a host of other symptoms be defined under one umbrella condition: congenital Zika syndrome. The new title was defined by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because of the unique pattern of birth defects that appear to only happen when a Zika infection occurs during pregnancy.

In the report, originally published in JAMA Pediatrics — a medical journal that publishes research on the child health — the CDC researchers laid out the distinct pattern of birth defects that have now been linked to the heartbreaking virus.

The researchers wrote in the report:

We conclude that congenital Zika syndrome is a recognizable pattern of structural anomalies and functional disabilities secondary to central and, perhaps, peripheral nervous system damage. Although many of the components of this syndrome, such as cognitive, sensory, and motor disabilities, are shared by other congenital infections, there are 5 features that are rarely seen with other congenital infections or are unique to congenital Zika virus infection.
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RECIFE, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 03: Mother Daniele Santos changes her baby Juan Pedro, 2-months-old, who was born with microcephaly, on February 3, 2016 in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded thousands of cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. Microcephaly results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders. The state with the most cases is Pernambuco, whose capital is Recife, and is being called the epicenter of the outbreak. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As The Washington Post detailed in layman's terms, those five features are:

  1. Severe microcephaly (abnormally small head size) with partly collapsed skull.
  2. Decreased brain tissue with a specific pattern of calcium deposits indicating brain damage
  3. Damage to the back of the eye with a specific pattern of scarring and increased pigment
  4. Joints with limited range of motion, such as clubfoot
  5. Too much muscle tone, restricting movement soon after birth
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC researchers came to their finalization after analyzing 34 public reports about the birth defects suffered by infants infected with Zika while their mothers were pregnant. Only two of the reports were from the United States and a few others in French Polynesia and Spain, but 29 of the cases came from Brazil, where the outbreak began in April 2015.

As previous research has supported, this report's conclusion found that the most common timing of infection happened during the first or second trimester of pregnancy. Although infants with birth defects infected during the third trimester were also reported, 90 percent of almost 2,000 pregnant women in Colombia infected with Zika noted that their child had no apparent anomalies.

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GLUSK, BELARUS - APRIL 03: Katya, 5, who is diagnosed with convulsive sydrome, microcephaly and is the size of an infant, lies in a pen of coloured balls next to a severely-handicapped boy at the Vesnova Home for Invalid Children on April 3, 2016 in Vesnova village near Glusk, Belarus. Approximately 170 handicapped children and teenagers, many of whom were born with severe birth defects, receive care at the facility located in southen Belarus, not far from zones contaminated by radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. Scientific debate is open over whether congenital birth defects can be attributed to Chernobyl radiation, though physicians in the region report a significant rise in congenital conditions since 1986. Also, a 2010 study led by U.S. researcher Wladimir Wertelecki in three contaminated counties in northern Ukraine found a correlation between dramatically high rates of certain congenital birth defects, including microcephaly, and the presence of hazardous levels of strontium-90 in 48% of 20,000 women tested. Children once lived in deplorable conditions at Vesnova, tough today the facility is among the best of its kind in Belarus thanks to long-term efforts by the Irish charity Chernobyl Children International. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

But that doesn't necessarily mean that all children born to Zika-infected mothers who don't show symptoms immediately won't have problems later. Catherine Spong, an obstetrician-gynecologist and the institute’s acting director, told The Washington Post that those children should be regularly monitored regardless, as some of these problems don't show up until months later.

"Although the severe cases are teaching us a lot, the impact is likely much more broad, and these impacts, although less striking, may be much more widespread and may need more monitoring and interventions," Spong told The Washington Post.

While this new title is a heartbreaking chapter to the Zika epidemic, the clear description of congenital Zika syndrome will help doctors recognize a pattern more easily and will hopefully provide more insight to help combat this devastating virus.