Study Confirms Half Of Babies Affected By Zika Virus Are Developing Normally

A study conducted at the University of California has found that about half of babies affected by the Zika virus epidemic are developing normally. Following the epidemic in 2015 to 2016, many were concerned for their baby’s health, especially if they lived in the areas with high cases of the virus. While the results of the study give hope that children affected will continue to develop normally, there are still many concerns for their health.

The virus was first detected in the Aedes mosquito, but it didn’t hit mainstream media until March 2015 when Brazil reported a large outbreak of rash illness. In that same year, scientists discovered links between the Zika virus and microcephaly: a birth defect that makes a baby’s head smaller than normal. This made pregnant women in the affected areas very concerned for their baby’s health. Since there is no treatment currently available for the Zika virus, a mosquito bite could’ve made any woman paranoid.

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A team led by Karin Nielsen-Saines tracked the development of babies whose mothers contracted the Zika virus during the epidemic. All of them were born by December 2016 and were consistently assessed in various areas: cognition, language, motor skills, vision, and hearing. They found that only 30% of the children had a below-average development, 7% had abnormal eye exams, and 12% had hearing defects. Eight of the 216 children had microcephaly, but two cases were resolved over time—one naturally and one surgically.

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The results are mostly positive; however, the team cautions us from dismissing the adverse effects of the virus. The normal assessments now do not guarantee that there won’t be any more developmental issues further down the road. The conclusions are also limited by some parents’ reluctance to have their child assessed; if their baby appears healthy, then there’s no need to test anything. It was also difficult to establish a control group for the study, as it was not possible to find children who were for sure not exposed to the virus at the time.

Even though there are limitations to the study, the findings give hope that children affected by the virus won’t develop cognitive issues. The team will continue to assess the children until they reach the age of seven, and their research will help treat future cases of Zika virus in the future. As we know more effects of the infection, we have more of a fighting chance against it.

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