13 Babies Had Heads of Normal Size. Then 11 Didn't

Researchers find Zika can cause microcephaly well after birth
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 24, 2016 8:56 AM CST
13 Babies Had Heads of Normal Size. Then 11 Didn't
In this July 26, 2016 file photo, a newborn baby with microcephaly rests at a maternity ward of the University Hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Researchers say the severe birth defect caused by Zika infection may not be apparent at birth but develop months afterward.   (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio, File)

Even babies whose heads appear to be of normal size at birth can go on to develop microcephaly, according to new research out of Brazil. Writing in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, scientists say that of the 13 babies they tracked who were born without any outward signs of microcephaly—but whose brain scans revealed other abnormalities like decreased brain volume—11 went on to develop microcephaly months later. "Among all infants, head growth was documented to have decelerated as early as 5 months of age," per the report. The only remotely good news? Their brain damage was less severe than that of babies born with microcephaly, and the researchers noted the babies seemed more capable of interacting socially, as evidenced by smiles and eye contact.

Unfortunately the infants' problems were still serious, including epilepsy and difficulty eating, reports New York magazine. "We were worried, but now that we've started following those cases, we are very sad," one doctor tells the New York Times. "The picture is really terrible." The researchers suggest three potential reasons for the post-birth decrease in head growth: that it might be "the consequence of earlier in utero destruction" of cells related to brain growth, an immune system response to the original infection, or continued infection of neural cells, though "the last seems less likely" as tests on seven babies showed no active Zika virus. (Dozens of pregnant women in Florida have tested positive for Zika.)

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