With microcephaly link now confirmed, focus turns to other defects
The link between Zika virus and microcephaly was first speculated and then confirmed. Now, health experts are saying that Zika is likely linked to a wider range of birth defects.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its June Bulletin, which, among other things, called attention to the likelihood that Zika is connected to more than only microcephaly, which is a medical condition where the brain of a fetus does not develop properly in utero, resulting in a smaller than normal head.
According to the WHO, Brazil already has at least 1,271 cases of newborns being born with microcephaly or other malformations that are most likely connected to Zika, and a number of other countries have seen a small number of such cases, as well -- French Polynesia (8 cases); Colombia (7 cases); Panama (4 cases); Cabo Verde (3 cases); and Martinique (2 cases). Additionally, the U.S. and Slovenia both have reported cases where the mother traveled to Brazil during pregnancy and then returned and delivered a child born with microcephaly.
Other congenital abnormalities
The WHO cited "existing evidence and unpublished data" when noting in its June Bulletin that a wider range of congenital abnormalities does exist that are likely associated with mothers being infected with Zika virus while pregnant and subsequently passing the infection to the fetus while in utero. The list of other abnormalities includes -- but is not limited to -- craniofacial disproportion, seizures, brainstem dysfunction, feeding difficulties, and eye issues.
While this expanded list of issues are all separate, and not related to microcephaly, the WHO believes that the cause is the same -- Zika virus passes from mother to fetus and then attacks the brain cells of the unborn child while in utero.
— WHO (@WHO) June 6, 2016
Effective data sharing
The WHO called for better and more effective data sharing in order to acquire a better understanding of how Zika may be linked to these other abnormalities and birth defects. The WHO noted that "a few reports have described a wide range of abnormalities, but most data related to congenital manifestations of Zika infection remain unpublished."
With a strong commitment to sharing data and results of tests tied to Zika, global understanding will increase rapidly and could help to suppress the epidemic.