You’ve heard a lot about Zika babies in the news and online. With so much information available, both accurate and misleading, it can be difficult to know what to believe.
Sensationalism on Zika Baby
News about babies with Zika show pictures of their abnormally small heads. It leads you to believe that Zika is all about microcephaly, the medical term for these babies with the deformed heads.
Do all babies born to mothers who have been exposed to the Zika virus have microcephaly?
Despite the fear and panic we’ve all be subjected to in the news, the short answer is no.
Part of the problem is that when the media uses high profile celebrities and personalities in their news items about the Zika virus, the hysteria and inaccuracy of information is spread.
And what better way to feed the fire than taking articles listing the fashion trends of celebrities and inserting false and incomplete information.
A recent article by the Daily Mail is a prime example of media sensationalism. We get a full overview of what the Duchess of Sussex wore on her recent visit to Fiji to prevent mosquito bites.
What the article is lacking in is accurate information about the Zika virus, its risks, and how to protect yourself.
What is the Zika Virus?
Just what is Zika? According to WHO (World Health Organization), the Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947, with the first human case recorded in 1952.
Outbreaks were reported in tropical regions in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. It’s suspected that other regions had unreported incidents of the virus.
The Zika virus is transmitted when humans are bitten by the Aedes mosquito. Mosquitoes are infected when they bite someone who already has the virus.
These infected mosquitoes are then able to spread the virus to other humans. And so, the cycle can continue.
Between people, Zika can be passed from a pregnant mother to her fetus, leading to babies born with Zika. It can also be passed from one person to another through sexual activity before, during, and after the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms, Testing, and Treatment
When infected with the Zika virus adults may experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. This is why many people have no idea that they’ve been infected with the virus.
These mild symptoms include headaches, skin rashes, a mild fever, joint and muscle pain, and red eye. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a week. The virus itself remains for up to a week in the blood of infected persons.
Testing is usually limited to people who have traveled to an area where there’s a risk of Zika. The virus is detected through urine or blood testing. At this time there is no vaccine to treat Zika, so the symptoms are treated as they occur.
Zika Baby Complications
With the Zika virus so much in the news, the images of Zika virus babies has instilled a lot of fear in women pregnant or planning a pregnancy. And who plan to travel to regions that have a risk of Zika.
Questions need to be asked about the Zika virus and the epidemic of microcephaly it supposedly leaves in its wake. A Zika infection during pregnancy may cause serious complications in unborn children.
This can include the following:
- Abnormalities in vision and hearing
- Complications with brain development
- Difficulty swallowing and other feeding problems
- Difficulty with movement
- Contracture problems – difficulty with movement of their joints
The truth on microcephaly and Zika
As well, the Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that affects the growth of the baby’s head.
A baby born with microcephaly may have a smaller brain which can lead to delays in intellectual development. This can include speech development, intellectual abilities, and motor development.
Cases of microcephaly can be mild to severe.
Babies with mild microcephaly may not exhibit all or any of the symptoms and developmental delays and lead a life without health problems. A baby with a severe case of microcephaly may not survive beyond a few days after birth.
Let’s take a closer look at pregnant women and the risk of a microcephaly in utero. Studies done by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimate a risk of 1 to 13% in the first trimester.
In the second and third trimester, they found the risk to be negligible.
New Zika report by the CDC
A recent report released by the CDC in August 2018 provides updated information on Zika-linked birth defects. This includes procedures and policies in place to care for Zika babies and manage their special health concerns.
For mothers who were exposed, or potentially exposed, to the Zika virus, babies are evaluated at birth for possible symptoms and signs of Zika.
The updated CDC report, Vital Signs: Zika-Associated Birth Defects and Neurodevelopmental Abnormalities, discusses evidence based on 4800 women in US territories between 2016 and 2018 who were infected, or possibly infected, with the Zika virus.
From these 4800 pregnancies, 1,450 virus babies of at least one year of age were used in the report evaluation.
What’s significantly notable, is that of these 1,450 babies, only 1 out of 7 exhibited one or more health issues that are related to Zika. Even more notable is that only 6% were diagnosed with Zika-linked birth defects, such as microcephaly.
Treatment of Babies Affected by Zika Virus
Babies who are affected by the Zika infection may need specialized care and continuous monitoring of their health. They may have “developmental delay” when it comes to learning, moving, and speaking.
The healthcare system needs to provide support to both Zika babies and their parents in all areas, including physical and psychological support.
It’s important that each Zika baby is evaluated immediately after birth to ensure that their health issues are detected early.
Early detection can allow their healthcare team to give them the right care for their specific needs.
Evaluation will include tests and procedures such as an ABR (auditory brainstem response) to detect hearing problems, developmental screening tests, and a head ultrasound.
According to Amesh A. Adalja MD, senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security – “Not evaluating these babies could lead to missed diagnoses and possibly a delay in the recognition and treatment of cognitive development delays, hearing abnormalities, and visual disturbances seen in babies born with Zika.”
Managing Zika Babies in the long-term
The 2018 CDC report also discusses the importance of continuous management and assessment of Zika babies. The first three years of any baby’s life are crucial for brain development.
Although Zika babies may have birth defects, testing, intervention, and treatment can provide them with the healthcare they need to meet and conquer health challenges.
Caring for a Zika baby is still unchartered territory for the healthcare profession. No doubt healthcare providers and the CDC will continue to evaluate how we care for babies that are affected by Zika and microcephaly.
The Zika virus and care of Zika babies require continuous learning and understanding. False information diminishes the Zika situation and deflects from the real issue: providing healthcare and support to every Zika baby and their families.
The more accurate and precise we are with the facts of Zika and who it affects, the closer we get to providing healthcare that can make an impact.