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Scans Show Range of Zika-Linked Brazilian Infant Brain Defects

Update Date: Aug 24, 2016 01:31 PM EDT
Brazil Faces New Health Epidemic As Mosquito-Borne Zika Virus Spreads Rapidly
RECIFE, BRAZIL - JANUARY 26: Dr. Angela Rocha (C), pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, examines Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos (2 months), who has microcephaly, on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. Brazil reported the first cases in the Americas of local transmissions of the virus last year. (Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Recent scans of Brazilian newborns and fetuses has revealed a wide variety of brain defects in newborns, whose mothers were infected with the Zika virus.

The virus, which has been earlier linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, (an underdeveloped brain and an abnormally small head).

However, along with microcephaly, other brain issues can also occur in fetuses exposed to Zika. These include gray matter and white matter volume loss, calcifications, brain stem abnormalities and ventriculomegaly, a condition in which brain ventricles are enlarged, reported Health Finder.

Moreover, other non-brain related anomalies like stunted growth, eye defects and hearing issues can also arise according to a special report on Radiology, published on August 23.

"From an imaging standpoint, the abnormalities in the brain are very severe when compared to other congenital infections," report co-author Dr. Deborah Levine said in a journal news release. 

Dr. Levine directs the obstetric & gynecologic ultrasound unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and is professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

In the specific study, researchers have examined medical scans and autopsy results from 17 newborns and fetuses in Brazil, who have been contaminated with Zika virus. Additionally, 28 newborns and fetuses suspected to be contaminated with Zika virus was also checked.

Brazil is by far the country hit hardest by Zika, with thousands of cases of microcephaly so far reported.

The imaging exams in the study included fetal MRI, postnatal brain CT, postnatal brain MRI and a scan called longitudinal prenatal ultrasound.

Nearly all of the babies in either the confirmed or suspected Zika infection groups had ventriculomegaly, the researchers said. Most fetuses also had at least one imaging exam that showed an abnormally small head size.

According to Levine, "The first trimester is the time where infection seems to be riskiest for the pregnancy."

Ultrasound in pregnancy can reveal Zika-related brain abnormalities, but it may take time before these problems are obvious, she said.

The danger of mosquito-borne Zika infection for pregnant American women became more imminent this month, with two neighborhoods in the Miami area reporting cases of locally acquired infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now advising that pregnant women avoid traveling to these areas of Miami to reduce their odds of contracting Zika.


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