Babies born with the effects of the Zika virus will be severely disabled as they go through life because of joint immobility and altered brain function, according to a study announced Thursday by UC San Diego Health.
The study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics was the result of evaluations and neuroimaging of 83 Brazilian children with presumed or confirmed ZIKV congenital infections.
Dr. Miguel del Campo, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine, said the findings have strong implications for future clinical care.
The severity of brain damage and other problems are variable, depending upon onset of maternal infection, said del Campo, the study’s first author. Earlier detection of maternal and prenatal infection is critical to developing remedies to prevent or moderate effects of the disease, he said.
“These findings provide new insight into the mechanisms and timing of the brain disruption caused by Zika infection, and the sequence of developmental anomalies that may occur,” said del Campo, who also serves as a medical geneticist at Rady Children’s Hospital.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus came to the attention of medical authorities early last year, when some women in South American began giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a condition in which the brain doesn’t fully develop, leaving them with smaller-than-normal heads.
Travelers to the region have also caught the disease and returned to the U.S., including San Diego. While the disease can be sexually transmitted, no cases have been noted in which someone caught the disease from a local mosquito bite, San Diego County health officials said.
Since 2015, 86 people in the San Diego region have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, while roughly the same number are awaiting test results, according to statistics kept by county health officials.
The research team reported that evidence of microcephaly and related skull abnormalities was present in 70 percent of the infants studied, though often it was subtle.
“Some cases had milder microcephaly or even a normal head circumference,” said del Campo.
He and fellow researchers from Brazil and Spain found that babies with congenital Zika infections suffered from problems like immobility and curvature of the joints, deep and multiple dimples, a shortening and hardening of the hands, and poor positioning of feet.
Neurological issues noted by the researchers were alterations in motor activity that were reflected in body tone, posture and motility or movement; severely abnormal muscle tension and contraction; abnormal behaviors like poor or delayed response to visual stimuli and excitability. Babies cried excessively but monotonously, and were often inconsolable.
According to the report, brain imaging revealed combinations of characteristic abnormalities, such as calcifications, poor gyral patterns and underdevelopment of the brainstem and cerebellum. There was also a marked decrease in both gray and white matter volumes.
Funding for the study was provided by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and the Brazilian Society of Medical Genetics.
–City News Service
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