Colombian health officials announced a “probable” microcephaly case in an aborted fetus and discovered the Zika virus in the amniotic fluid.
An 18-year-old girl aborted the baby at 28 weeks in Popayan, located in Cauca. The doctors saw the baby had “an abnormally small head and considered it microcephaly.” The National Health Institute did not examine the baby since doctors threw away the body.
“Unfortunately in this case, the breach of guidelines by those responsible for handling the case in Cauca prevented an accurate diagnosis being reached,” explained director Martha Lucia Ospina. “They discarded the fetal remains that were indispensable to diagnose or rule out Zika and the link with microcephaly and other abnormalities.”
The Zika outbreak reached Colombia in October 2015. The country has recorded 37,000 Zika cases, among them 6,300 pregnant women. Doctors “confirmed the presence of Zika in 522 of those cases.” Unlike Brazil, Colombia has not linked any babies with microcephaly to Zika, even though Colombia has the second-largest number of Zika cases.
Microcephaly occurs when the brain does not form properly during pregnancy or after birth, causing a small head. Children can suffer from seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disability, and feeding problems. Doctors cannot diagnose microcephaly until the third trimester or after birth:
In many cases, microcephaly may not be evident by ultrasound until the third trimester and, therefore, may not be seen on ultrasounds performed earlier in pregnancy. The diagnosis of microcephaly may be made at birth or later in infancy. The baby’s head circumference is much smaller than normal. During the physical exam, the doctor obtains a complete prenatal and birth history of the child. In older babies and children, the doctor may also ask if there is a family history of microcephaly or other medical problems. Sometimes the child is born with a normal head circumference but then acquires microcephaly because of a serious condition, such as certain genetic disorders, stroke, traumatic injury, or poisoning. The doctor will also ask about developmental milestones since microcephaly can be associated with other problems, such as intellectual disability. Developmental delays may require further medical follow-up for underlying problems.
Virologist Gubio Soares, who first identified the pervasive Zika virus in Brazil, suggested that legalized abortion in French Polynesia may have prevented scientists from uncovering a link between Zika and severe infant deformities sooner. During a lecture, Soares claimed scientists do not know for sure if a link exists between Zika and microcephaly. This is mainly because women in places where Zika breeds often aborted children who showed signs of microcephaly.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that doctors had confirmed the Zika virus in the tissue of infants who died from microcephaly. “This is the strongest evidence to date that Zika is the cause of microcephaly,” explained CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Zika is new, and new diseases can be scary, particularly when they can affect the most vulnerable among us.”
Frieden stopped short of claiming Zika caused the microcephaly. He said scientists need to perform more tests to confirm an actual link.
In Brazil, Dr. Sandra Mattos found data on 100,000 newborns since 2012. At least 1,600 babies born in the last years had microcephaly or smaller-than-normal heads. “We were very, very surprised,” stated Mattos. “Borderline cases seem to be present all along.”
CBC News reports:
Brazilian authorities set the criterion for microcephaly, a measurement of head size, at 32 centimetres for full-term births. Doctors were asked to report babies at or below that level for further investigation.
Mattos said the data analysis also confirmed the number of severe microcephaly cases increased starting in October or November of 2014.
Mattos told the World Health Organization that “other potential factors need to be considered” since 80% of the microcephaly babies live in northeast Brazil.