Fattened up on bites of potatoes, yucca and chicken starting at 4 months, some of the babies wearing sporty clothes and frilly dresses are rolly-polly chubby. As striking as their sizable girth are their heads, beautifully round and fully formed with none of the deep skin folds that corroborate the Zika virus’ devastating ability to halt normal brain expansion as infants develop in utero.
During a recent trip Sarah B. Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., made to Colombia, where Children’s National Health System researchers are collaborating on a clinical study, she tested Zika-affected babies’ motor skills as they sat, stood, and lay facing upward and face down. The international study aims to answer one of the most vexing questions about Zika: If babies’ brains appear “normal” at birth, have they survived Zika exposure in the womb with few neurological repercussions?
“We don’t know the long-term neurological consequences of having Zika if your brain looks normal,” says Dr. Mulkey, a fetal-neonatal neurologist who is a member of Children’s Congenital Zika Virus Program. “That is what’s so scary, the uncertainty about long-term outcomes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 10 pregnancies across the United States with laboratory-confirmed Zika virus infection has resulted in birth defects in the fetus or infant. For the lion’s share of Zika-affected pregnancies, then, babies’ long-term prospects remain a mystery.
“This is a huge number of children to be impacted and the impact, as we understand, has the potential to be pretty significant,” Dr. Mulkey adds.
Dr. Mulkey, the lead author, will present the research group’s preliminary findings during the 2017 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS). The presentation is among a number during the meeting that will focus on the Zika virus. Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National, organized two invited symposia devoted to the topic of Zika: Clinical perspectives and knowledge gaps, and the science of Zika, including experimental models of disease and vaccines. Dr. DeBiasi’s presentation will include an overview of the 68 Zika-exposed or infected women and infants seen by Children’s multidisciplinary Congenital Zika Virus Program.
“As the world’s largest pediatric research meeting, PAS2017 is an ideal setting for panelists to provide comprehensive epidemiologic and clinical updates about the emergence of Congenital Zika Syndrome and to review the pathogenesis of infection as it relates to the fetal brain,” Dr. DeBiasi says. “With temperatures already rising to levels that support…