With many of the babies born with Zika virus-related developmental issues growing out of infancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new study of that group, finding that toddlers born with Zika are unable to sit, hold their heads up, or speak.
The study focused on 15 of the most severely effected babies born in the northeastern region of Brazil, where Zika virus is most prevalent. According to the New York Times, “At about 22 months old, these children had the cognitive and physical development of babies younger than 6 months. They could not sit up or chew, and they had virtually no language.”
The Times reports:
The children were evaluated when they were between 19 and 24 months old. Four of the 19 evaluated had very few symptoms or developmental difficulties, and researchers concluded they were “misclassified” as Zika babies, possibly because of errors in lab testing or head measurement.
But 15 children, eight girls and seven boys, had a range of symptoms, most of which had not improved since infancy. All had severely impaired motor skills, with all but one child meeting the conditions for a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Most had seizures and sleeping problems. Eight had been hospitalized at some point, most for bronchitis or pneumonia. Nine had difficulty eating or swallowing, which can be life-threatening because food can get stuck in the lungs or the children can be malnourished.
C.D.C. director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald remarks that “it’s heartbreaking. We would expect that these children are going to require enormous amounts of work and require enormous amounts of care.”
Furthermore, as pointed out by disease expert Dr. Ernesto Marques of the University of Pittsburgh, “Most of these babies are from low socioeconomic status and rely on the public health system to provide care. It’s very difficult to manage those children because they need multiple types of specialists.”
Brazilian doctors concur with the CDC’s findings, saying it’s inline with their experiences with patients.
With more women becoming immune to Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitos, fewer babies are being born with Zika-related issues, but the number is still substantial. As the Times reports, “3 percent of 1,000 pregnant women in a recent sample were infected with Zika.”
“The problem’s not going away. We are still having cases,” says Dr. Marques.