Previous reports have suggested the mosquito borne Zika virus may be most damaging to a developing baby during the first trimester of pregnancy. But a new study says the virus can actually harm babies at any stage of pregnancy.
According to NBC News, researchers in Brazil looked at the blood and urine from 88 pregnant women at various stages of gestation between September and February. They found that 80 percent of the women who experienced symptoms like fever and rash tested positive for Zika. Then, the team was able to follow the women's progress in real time, eventually concluding 29 percent of the fetuses had some sort of defect.
Now, researchers are calling the range of problems caused by a pregnant mother being infected "Zika virus congenital syndrome." The syndrome includes the potential of a baby having the most widely talked about defect, microcephaly (a smaller-than-average head and brain damage), as well as eye problems, small size, and even death as a result of placental damage. These defects are being talked about as affecting babies on an epidemic level.
"Despite mild clinical symptoms, Zika virus infection during pregnancy appears to be associated with grave outcomes, including fetal death, placental insufficiency, fetal growth restriction, and central nervous system injury," researchers said in their report, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"There's more than microcephaly," says Dr. Karin Nielsen, one researcher behind the study. "There is a spectrum of disease. There are parts of the brain that are not formed. There are calcifications in the brain. There is in-utero growth restriction."
And even if birth defects aren't evident at first, children exposed in utero may grow up with physical and mental disabilities. Dr. Nielsen says any and all of these effects may be seen after exposure in the first, second, or third trimester. The evidence: In two cases, women suffered first trimester miscarriages, and in two cases, babies who looked normal on an ultrasound right before birth died. Doctors also observed abnormalities on sonograms peformed during the second trimester.
Doctors advise any pregnant woman who has contracted the virus to be treated as a high-risk case.
For every woman who is considering a pregnancy, or who is currently pregnant, this new information adds to the incredibly scary thoughts we are already having about the virus that has infected millions of people, thousands of whom were pregnant, in Brazil and more than a dozen other South American and Caribbean countries. We worry about an outbreak happening in the U.S., especially with the warmer months ahead.
Already, 192 infections have been reported in this country, according to ABC News.
But there's a ray of hope on the horizon. BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. reports an initial test of a vaccine they are developing shows promise in mice. According to Reuters, seven out of eight mice that received the "standard" dose of the drug BCX443 survived. Those who received either a low dose or the placebo died after 28 days.
There's no word on when a vaccine may be available to the general population. But here's hoping it is very soon, so we can put an end to the understandable panic over this brutal virus.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.