A new study published in the British medical journal Lancet reveals a “striking magnitude of association between microcephaly and Zika virus infection” and warns readers to “prepare for a global epidemic of microcephaly and other manifestations of congenital Zika syndrome.”
“Since a rash of microcephaly cases in Brazil last year coincided with an unprecedented outbreak of Zika, anecdotal and observational evidence has pointed to a connection between microcephaly and Zika infection in mothers. But researchers say the preliminary findings published in Lancet represent the first case-control study evaluating that hypothesis,” Vice News reports.
The study is still in progress at eight public hospitals in Brazil, but the researchers “said they released early results after studying just 94 newborns this year due to the seriousness of what they were seeing,” according to Vice News.
Microcephaly was only one of the problems discovered by researchers, who found affected newborns displayed slower physical development, irritability, sleep disorders, and at later ages neurological issues such as epileptic seizures and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).
The L.A. Times reports 13 out of 32 newborns with microcephaly tested by the Brazilian Ministry of Health were positive for the Zika virus, while “none of the 62 newborns in a comparison group who had normal-sized heads showed any sign of infection.”
Furthermore, 84 percent of the babies in the microcephaly group had low birthweight, and 11 out of 27 babies subjected to a head CT scan had at least one abnormality, including “large ventricles, brain tissue that was smooth instead of folded, or calcifications that can be a sign of a past viral infection.” One of the babies was stillborn, while three others died in intensive care.
Newsmax reports the full study will include 200 microcephaly cases, plus 400 control cases.
“Our findings suggest Zika virus should be officially added to the list of congenital infections,” said research team member Thalia Velho Barreto de Araujo, of Brazil’s Pernambuco University. “However, many questions still remain to be answered – including the role of previous dengue infection.” Dengue fever is another mosquito-borne illness.
“When complete, the study, along with other ongoing research, will provide vital information on any role co-factors might have in the epidemic,” said Professor Laura Rodrigues of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who also worked on the study.