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New Links Between Zika & Epilepsy Emerge

The effects of 2015's sudden wave of Zika outbreaks are still under close watch by scientists, especially as warmer temperatures ramp up in the United States. One of these concerning effects? Seizures in infants. So does Zika cause epilepsy? A new essay released in JAMA Neurology shares some new insight and data on this not-so-surprising link.

Written by three researchers who have all studied Zika extensively at the CDC, the essay, entitled "Enhanced Epilepsy Surveillance and Awareness in the Age of Zika," synthesized multiple reports that all found significant numbers of "seizures and epilepsy reported in some infants exposed to Zika while in the womb." In one case, studying 48 babies with probable congenital Zika infection revealed that half of the infants had clinical seizures.

But what do seizures in newborns look like? The Epilepsy Foundation offers a few key observations to check. First, seizures may appears as the "jerking or stiffening of a leg or an arm that can alternate from side to side," or "the whole upper body [or both legs] may jerk up toward the belly with the knees bent." Also, "the baby's facial expression, breathing, and heart rate may change." Lastly, and most subtly, the baby may suffer an "impairment of responsiveness."

Seeing that it's been proven that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly, and considering the fact that microcephaly is linked to seizures, the Zika-epilepsy connection isn't all that new for researchers. Still, these neurological effects are vital for understanding Zika fully. Infants with microcephaly have smaller heads than normal, which signifies severe brain abnormalities.

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The Miami Herald summarized the new essay's findings, sharing the impact that this research might have on understanding Zika a bit better:

By increasing awareness and surveillance of seizures and epilepsy where active Zika transmission is occurring, the article states, health officials may better identify associated cases and improve their understanding of the virus’s impacts.

Though symptoms of Zika are relatively mild, the impact that Zika can have on an unborn baby is life-altering. Remember: Zika is caused by transmission from a carrier mosquito. The Mayo Clinic also notes that there has also been recorded transmission both "through sexual contact and blood transfusion." Pregnant moms looking to protect their unborn babies need to be as careful as possible.

In making sure that doctors work diligently and look out for epilepsy in Zika-affected newborns, the proper precautions can be taken to help suffering babies. More research and awareness of the intricacies of this disease allows for steps toward better Zika treatment and prevention.