How Does Zika Affect Toddlers?

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Only a few short years ago, the Zika virus was making headlines all throughout the world. Zika is a threat to pregnant women and infants in many mosquito-infested areas throughout the world. The rate of just how many infants Zika has affected is difficult to determine, as it hasn't been proven with 100 percent certainity that Zika causes complications such as microcephaly. However, the World Health Organization notes that it's "widely accepted" that the two conditions are linked, and in many cases of infants who have had microcephaly, the virus has been confirmed, leading doctors to further link the virus with the complication.

In Brazil, one of the areas that has seen the highest number of cases of Zika, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that an average of 164 cases of microcephaly were being reported annually between 2001 and 2014. While not every single one of those cases could be proven to be caused by Zika, the numbers suggest a definite link. And that's just one Zika-infected area. The WHO also found that upwards off 33 countries have been infected by the virus.

Although Zika seems to have slowed for the moment, as the Centers for Disease Control has zero reported cases of the virus so far in 2018, that doesn't change the fact that the virus has already affected many families worldwide. And now, as those infants first affected by the Zika virus are growing up, what is happening to them? How exactly does Zika affect toddlers?

What Is the Zika Virus?

According to the CDC, Zika was first discovered as early as 1947. It was discovered in the Zika Forest, hence the name "Zika virus." There have been different outbreaks of the virus in humans since its initial discovery. The advent of the ease of global travel, in combination with the fact that Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact and through a mother during pregnancy, contributed to the most recent outbreak, which began in 2015.

The Zika virus is like many other viruses, in that it doesn't cause major complications in every single person that is infected with the virus. For example, for most healthy adults, Zika is pretty minor; it might cause a slight fever or a rash, but other than that, it doesn't carry any major danger. However, in some individuals, the virus can be far more dangerous. In pregnant women, the Zika virus can lead to an infection that causes birth defects, including microcephaly, as well as other birth defects or miscarriage and stillbirth. Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which affects the nervous system.

How Zika Affects Toddlers

A December 2017 study from the CDC detailed how the first generation of babies born with the Zika virus are now turning two, entering the age of toddlerhood. Doctors are following their development closely to learn more about how Zika might affect children as they grow. The study looked primarily at toddlers from Brazil who had been infected by Zika, as Brazil was one of the hardest-hit countries for the virus and its resulting complications.

In a previous study, doctors had examined 19 toddlers who had experienced severe microcephaly from birth and all later displayed complications stemming from the interruption in their brain development. The toddlers were assessed between the ages of 19 and 24 months and all of the children had complications such as seizure disorders, problems seeing and hearing, sleep disturbances, and severe motor impairment. The study noted that all of the children had "severe functional limitations" and thus required specialized care from a parent, caregiver, or institution.

An additional study that looked at the effects of Zika was done that was called the the Zika Outcomes and Development in Infants and Children (ZODIAC) investigation. The ZODIAC study revealed that the findings were consistent for other children that had Zika as well; the other toddlers displayed similar symptoms of being small for their ages, complications such as seizures, more frequent hospital visits, sleeping difficulties, and eating impairments due to issues swallowing. A large majority of the toddlers also had hearing and vision problems, and almost none of the toddlers passed an assessment designed for six-month-olds. Overall, the study noted that doctors now know more than ever some of the complications that Zika can cause in children and this can help direct their care for the future.

A Word From Verywell

Although the results of the study of toddlers with Zika may not reveal promising findings, it is important research for doctors to know exactly how the virus might affect children who have been infected. The findings can also help doctors know what early assessment, intervention, and support can be helpful for future children that might have complications from Zika.

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Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, August 28). Overview: Zika virus. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/overview.html
  • Satterfield-Nash A, Kotzky K, Allen J, et al. Health and Development at Age 19–24 Months of 19 Children Who Were Born with Microcephaly and Laboratory Evidence of Congenital Zika Virus Infection During the 2015 Zika Virus Outbreak — Brazil, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:1347–1351. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6649a2.
  • World Health Organization. (2016, Feb 5). Zika Situation Report. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204348/1/zikasitrep_5Feb2016_eng.pdf?