Much of the world is aware by now that the Zika virus can endanger unborn babies by causing calamitous birth defects. But what about infants and older children? Can Zika be dangerous for them?
National Public Radio’s Michaeleen Doucleff reports that so far, there is no evidence that the virus affects children. But she adds a few caveats to that statement.
For adults, the virus usually causes mild symptoms such as fever, a rash, red eyes, or joint pain, which last less than a week. Many individual get no symptoms whatsoever.
Stanford Medicine’s David Vu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, says:
“There haven’t been any reports that suggest Zika causes more severe symptoms in children or infants.”
But it is too early to predict if any long-term effects for babies and children who catch Zika after birth can occur. The research is in its first stages, added Vu.
James Bale, a pediatric neurologist at the University of Utah, explains that there is no sign that children’s brains can be attacked in the same way as those of fetuses.
“Zika virus seems to pose little or no threat to the nervous system of infants or children, when infections occur after birth,” Bale says.
Bale notes that the virus can cause infections in the brain such as encephalitis, but this is rare. Still, parents should be alert concerning this possibility.
Zika has also been known to cause an increase in the risk of a rare brain disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. GBS can cause short-term or permanent paralysis. So far, it seems Zika increases the possibility of getting GBS approximately fivefold or from 1 in 67,000 to roughly 1 in 14,000, according to Bale.
To date, the overwhelming majority of Zika-related GBS has been found in adults. Individuals in their 40s are three times as likely to get GBS than are children up to the age of nine, say researchers in the journal Neuroepidemology in 2011.
Part of the reason fetuses are so vulnerable to the virus is that the placenta is not able to protect the growing embryo but, in fact, it seems to support the growth of the infection and then travels into the developing brain.
The public needs to know that most parts of the country do not have the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus, and it is highly unlikely that the virus could appear in the US.
To shield children from the infection, experts say adults should look at the CDC map that shows whether a community has this particular mosquito. If a family lives near the Gulf Coast or in specific sections of Texas and Florida, they should call the mosquito control office to inquire if any of these mosquitoes have been detected.
Those concerned about safety can use mosquito netting and a repellent that contains picaridin, writes Katrina Pascual of Tech Times.
But Lecia Bushak of Medical Daily quoted a new paper published n JAMA Pediatrics that reports:
“As Zika virus infection spreads across the Latin American and Caribbean region and then into the southern United States, we can expect to see thousands of additional children born with microcephaly and possibly many more newborns or even older infants with signs of more subtle but significant neurologic defects and developmental delays. Just as [HIV/AIDS] created a ‘new normal’ in the field of pediatrics beginning in the 1990s, can we expect new paradigms in child health from Zika virus?”
And Catherine Y. Spöng, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist writing for The Huffington Post, says the World Health Organization notes that thousands of suspected Zika-associated cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since October 2015.
Brazil is only one of 58 countries and territories that have reported local, mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus. Currently, studies are in place to document the full range of infant outcomes related to the Zika virus exposure.
More research is needed, says Spöng, to give physicians the ability to address the particular needs of young ones affected by the Zika virus.