Saturday, October 8, 2016

Quantifying the harm that Zika does to unborn babies

Artificially colored EM image of the Zika virus. Credit: CDC

Last week on my page, I posted an article from NBC news about how Zika might be more damaging than we initially thought. Several people expressed concern that it was just a news article and not a scientific study. A study has now been released that quantifies the harm that Zika does and it is quite shocking. A little over a year ago, I posted about Zika on my page for the first time. I had come across an article detailing how Zika was potentially transmitted through sexual contact. This was unusual for an arthropod-borne virus and it caught my eye. Little did I know that Zika would then take center stage in the media as a result of another unique characteristic that it seemed to posses: causing birth defects. 

A newly published study has expanded what we know of the harm that Zika can cause in unborn babies, for which the author propose calling congenital Zika syndrome. Medical professionals in Brazil followed 11 babies that were born with congenital Zika syndrome and were confirmed to have been infected by the virus. From following these babies, the authors were able to categorize several neurological conditions beyond microcephaly that these babies suffered from. Of these 11 babies, three died from the syndrome within 48 hours of being born. Autopsies were performed on two of them and extensive damage to neural and brain tissue were seen. In some of the babies examined, it was found that the thalamus was calcified and in some cases absent. The thalamus is involved in the sensory systems and sleep & wakefulnessCalcification in brain tissue can lead to a myriad of problems that leads to dysfunction. Another problem seen was lissencephaly, or smoothing of the brain tissue, which also causes dysfunction. In addition to the neural disorders, arthrogryposis, or involuntary contraction of the joints.

In total, these data suggest that Zika may do more severe damage than initially thought. I didn't get into everything that the new study described as a result of Zika infection, but the totality of it is horrifying. The reports of the symptoms these babies have now makes sense when one sees the damage to the brain that this virus causes. This study helps make the case that Zika should be added to the TORCH acronym as its own entity due to the extent of the damage that it does.