Zika: Birth defects associated with virus may be 'tip of the iceberg'

The birth defects associated with the Zika virus may be just the beginning of the impacts of the disease on infants, officials said at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies on Sunday.

"The microcephaly and other birth defects we have been seeing could be the tip of the iceberg," said Sonja Rasmussen, M.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NBC News reported.

Some infected babies have appeared normal at birth, but hidden birth defects are likely to surface as the children continue to grow, the officials said. Children born with microcephaly may act like other infants early on, but will begin to miss important growth milestones, they said.

With no cure for the defects at present, and no certain timeline for the virus' potential impacts, the future is in question for these babies. "We really don't know what will happen with these kids long-term," Rasmussen said.

In other Zika developments, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a commercial test for the virus. Previously, a doctor who wanted to test for the disease had to send blood samples to state health labs or to the CDC, USA Today reported. Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told the newspaper that the test came at precisely the right time. "By having this test widely available, it will reduce the potential bottlenecks in testing that some high-incidence states might otherwise experience," he said. "It's welcome news to the public health system for sure."

Researchers in Brazil, which has seen more 90,000 cases of Zika since January, have found that the brain damage infants born with the disease face may be worse than doctors anticipated, The Wall Street Journal reported. Microcephaly causes babies to be born with small heads, according to the WSJ article, but the babies born with Zika-related defects all had substantial brain damage, including damage to the areas that control thought, vision and movement. "It's safe to say almost all of them will require long-term, continual care," Edwin Trevathan, professor of neuroscience at Baylor University and a former director of the CDC's national center on birth defects and developmental disabilities, told WSJ.

Meanwhile, the CDC has reported the first U.S. death linked to Zika. A Puerto Rican man, who was in his 70s, died in February from internal bleeding, a rare reaction to a prior Zika infection, according to an article in The New York Times. More than 650 cases of Zika have been reported in Puerto Rico, and 17 patients have been hospitalized with related complications.

Despite the calls for additional funding to combat Zika, Congress began a week-long break on Friday without addressing the issue, the Associated Press reported

To learn more:
- here's the NBC News article
- here's the FDA update 
- read the USA Today article
- check out The Wall Street Journal report
- view The New York Times article
- see the CDC update
- check out the AP coverage

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