Microcephaly is a rare condition where the circumference of a baby's head is smaller than normal. This is due to brain not developed properly or has stopped growing in the womb or during infancy. Babies and children with microcephaly often have challenges with their brain development as they grow older. Children that survive from microcephaly face intellectual disability and development delays. The severity of developmental disability depends on how badly the Zika virus has stunted the brain growth.
The severity of microcephaly varies, but it can be deadly if the brain is so underdeveloped that it cannot regulate the functions vital to life.
Health authorities are finding the link between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and infants born with Microcephaly.
Microcephaly can also be caused by a variety of environmental and genetic factors such as Downs syndrome; exposure to drugs, alcohol or other toxins in the womb; and rubella infection during pregnancy. Microcephaly affects 25,000 children in the United States each year. It can also be caused by infections such as rubella, substance abuse during pregnancy or genetic abnormalities.
Microcephaly can cause a range of symptoms, with some children experiencing serious health issues while some children can continue developing normally.
- Below-average head size in new born babies
- Failure of growth of brain at normal rate
- Head circumference measuring less than 31.5-32 cm at birth
The Zika virus began gaining international attention when the Brazil health ministry announced the steep rise in microcephaly causes after the outbreak of the virus in the country. In 2014, Brazil has fewer than 150 cases. However, more than 4,700 cases have been reported since 22 October 2015. Out of these 404 were confirmed and 3,670 still being investigated. Since the outbreak of Zika virus happened in 2015, scientists strongly suspect a link between Zika virus and microcephaly. Some babies who died have the virus in their brain. The virus was also detected in placenta and amniotic fluid.
In February 2016, Slovenia scientists have found a link between Zika virus and Microcephaly. The scientists published a report in the New England Journal of Medicine that they have found traces of Zika virus in the brain of an aborted foetus with severe microcephaly. The infant's mother is from Europe and she had probably got the virus in Brazil.
Zika virus in infants can also cause Eye Damage in Babies.
As the link between Zika virus and microcephaly is not clear, some governments have advised women who are trying to delay getting pregnant until some more information is known.
In February 2016, scientists in Brazil have detected Zika virus in the amniotic fluid surrounding two babies in the womb who were diagnosed with microcephaly. Further tests showed that the babies showed no sign of dengue, chikungunya virus or any other infection. The tests showed that Zika virus had crossed the placenta, a barrier made up of layers of tissue that can protect the foetus from some infections. The findings suggest that Zika virus is alone responsible for Microcephaly.
Growth Charts to assess babies
On 18 February 2016, researchers at the University of Oxford published a final set of diagnostic tools that includes growth charts which can be applied to all babies. The growth charts will help healthcare officials to help screen for babies who are suspected to have microcephaly. The health care officials can assess the weight, length and head circumference of newborns from 24 to 42 weeks of gestation. The size of babies in relation to their gestational age at birth is a very important and easy to obtain marker of their health, nutritional status, chances of survival in the first years of life and future well-being.