Lingering Virus and Invisible Brain Damage: New Zika Worries

A new report shows how the Zika virus can harm a baby’s brain, despite normal ultrasounds early in the pregnancy. The case study adds new worries about the Zika link to severe birth defects.

When a Pregnant Woman Gets Zika, The Virus is Not Just in the Baby’s Brain

In the new case study, Zika virus was not only found in the baby’s developing brain, but also in its muscle, liver, lung and spleen. Zika virus in the brain has been linked to serious neurological damage. Now doctors will be looking to see what impact it is also having on these other organs.

A Small Head is Not the Only Sign

When a pregnant woman has been infected with Zika virus, doctors have been using ultrasound to look for deformities in the shape of the fetus’ head, like an abnormally small head. But now, the study suggests doctors have to look for other signs of brain damage like extra fluid in the brain cavities or a thinner cortex, which is the brain’s outer layer. These signs actually appear very early in the pregnancy, as early as 7 weeks after the mother gets infected.

Zika Virus Lingers Up to 10 Weeks

Before the new study, scientists believed Zika virus remained in the blood for 11 days after infection.

But in the case report, Zika was found in the mother’s blood 10 weeks after infection — more than six times longer than experts previously thought. The researchers suspect that Zika virus replicates in the infected baby and gets back into the mother’s blood stream. Zika vanished from the mother’s blood when the pregnancy was terminated.

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