Zika Virus and Microcephaly By Joyce Elizabeth Mauk, M.D.
Recent alarming reports have associated Zika virus with an increased incidence of a birth defect known as microcephaly in Brazil and Central America. CDC is watching this very carefully, anticipating that perhaps the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus may begin to be seen in the Continental United States and if the association between Zika Virus, infection in pregnant women and microcephaly in infants is confirmed, there may be an increased incidence of babies born with microcephaly. Microcephaly is the end result of a baby’s brain not growing properly. It is not specific to Zika Virus or any other viruses. Previously, causes of microcephaly included viruses such as rubella, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus. Microcephaly can also be caused by fetal exposure to harmful substances such as alcohol and certain drugs. Because the brain is the center that controls a person’s actions, ability to think, talk, swallow, see, hear and move, a smaller than normal brain can be associated with problems in each of those areas. Severely affected infants may have difficulties with swallowing, eating and even breathing and have a shortened life span. Others with microcephaly will exhibit developmental delays including difficulties learning to walk, talk and ultimately intellectual disabilities.
Microcephaly and its associated developmental disabilities are not curable, but they fall into the spectrum of disorders that can be diagnosed and treated at Child Study Center. Our doctors who are specialists in Developmental Disabilities can assist families who may be concerned about microcephaly and help promote the appropriate therapeutic interventions for their children. The role of the physician would be to help find the appropriate therapies and minimize and treat associated medical conditions to maximize the outcome for these infants.
Dr. Mauk is the CEO and Medical Director of Child Study Center and President-Elect Texas Pediatric Society.