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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 25
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The Centers for Disese Control Web site shows an image of a baby with a small head. The dashes show how big a normal baby's head should be.

Zika and its effects still a mystery

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it. About 80 percent don't show any symptoms. Others might have a rash or a slight fever. The disease seems insignificant, but it also seems to be having a devastating effect on babies whose mothers are infected with the virus.

The zika virus erupted in Brazil last May, and now more than 4,000 babies born there are suspected of having microcephaly, an abnormally small head.

The link between zika and microcephaly has not been proven, but the World Health Organization says that until scientists come up with a better explanation, they believe the zika virus is the cause.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the condition is unusual.  Between two and 12 babies out of every 10,000 live births in the U.S. have microcephaly. The Centers say microcephaly can occur when a baby's brain doesn't develop properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth.

Babies with this disorder can have a range of other problems, depending on the severity of the condition. Microcephaly has been linked to problems with speech, standing and walking, balance, hearing and vision.

But, in an interview, Edward McCabe from the March of Dimes said it doesn't always have devastating consequences.

"Ten to 15 percent of American babies with microcephaly are completely normal,” he said. “The concern is how these babies are going to develop as they get older."

The key is to get the babies properly evaluated by the appropriate professionals. Intervention might include physical or speech therapy.

McCabe also said not every baby will have the same outcome.

"Our knowledge of microcephaly prior to the zika virus association is that there is a spectrum that stretches from normal, even high intelligence, through the spectrum in terms of developmental delay," he said.

Not much is known about zika, including when it is most likely to cause a fetal brain to stop developing, assuming that is true. But doctors suspect the most dangerous time for a woman to acquire the zika virus is in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Like other scientists, McCabe is frustrated by the lack of scientific information available on the Zika virus and its link to microcephaly.

"We need more data," he said.


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