Critical to monitor babies’ health after Zika

Critical to monitor babies’ health after Zika

But for how long

WASHINGTON — More federal money finally is available to fight Zika, even as the news worsens. Babies who at first seem to have escaped the virus’ devastating hallmark defect — an abnormally small head at birth — might not be out of the woods after all.

Brazilian doctors have counted a small number of babies who at birth had a normal-sized head and only later were found to have problems. They have delayed neurodevelopment. At 5 months, one could use one hand but not the other. Later on, some even developed that defect, called microcephaly. The brain and skull weren’t growing properly after birth, instead of before.

“Microcephaly is only the tip of the iceberg, only the thing we see when the baby is born,” Dr. Vanessa Van der Linden, a pediatric neurologist in Recife, Brazil, told a meeting at the National Institutes of Health where she outlined a long list of Zika-related abnormalities.

To children’s health experts, the message is clear. Intense study is needed of babies born to Zika-infected mothers to learn the range of health problems they may face.

“It is just critical to evaluate the entire child. Even in the child who does not have microcephaly, that doesn’t mean no evaluation is needed,” said Dr. Catherine Spong of the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which despite budget constraints has begun research to better understand the full range of abnormalities they may face.

“Some will be apparent at birth, but likely some will not be,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Monday. He called “the biggest unknown” what will happen to those babies who don’t have an obvious abnormality at birth.

After months of partisan bickering, Congress last week passed a budget bill that includes $1.1 billion to address the Zika crisis. It’s just over half the total emergency money that President Barack Obama requested last February. That was well before cases in U.S. states and territories rose to more than 25,000, and well before mosquitoes started spreading the virus in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

Federal health officials said Monday they’d race the money to the researchers and state health departments that need it as soon as possible.

Topping the list: A Zika vaccine. An initial safety study of one vaccine candidate enrolled its final participant over the weekend, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s infectious disease chief. If follow-up of those participants shows the vaccine was safe and triggered an appropriate immune response, a larger study to test if it really protects is set to begin in January, maybe late December.

Other priorities include mosquito control, development of faster Zika tests, and hunting possible treatments.

Out of money to fight Zika over the spring and summer, the government had raided funds meant for other diseases — Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis, even cancer and heart disease — to get started.

But it wasn’t enough, said CDC’s Frieden: “We haven’t been able to get a running start.”

Nor has Congress refunded the plundered money, meaning work against those other diseases also was delayed.

At the recent NIH meeting, Brazil’s Van der Linden catalogued a sobering list of abnormalities in the most severely affected babies at her clinic, the ones born with microcephaly — which by itself can’t indicate the degree of underlying brain damage.

She showed videos of those babies having seizures. They tend to cry nonstop. They may not eat enough — only about an ounce of milk at a time — because of painful reflux and trouble swallowing. Their muscles are stiff and spastic. They have vision and hearing problems.

If that isn’t worrisome enough, Van der Linden then highlighted less severe problems that appeared later among about a dozen babies who’d appeared healthy at birth. Dr. Carmen Zorrilla of the University of Puerto Rico added that she’s seen eye problems among a handful of babies born without microcephaly.

How many babies might be at risk from Zika? How long will they need to be monitored for health problems?

NIH’s child health agency has begun a study to try to tell. In areas where Zika is spreading, researchers plan to enrol 10,000 women in the first trimester of pregnancy and then track all the babies through the first year of life. Some will have been infected with Zika and some won’t, allowing a comparison of resulting health problems.

“I can’t say at this moment in time how long do we need to follow these children, because this is new for us,” said Spong, who expects eventually to see a wide variety of health effects more subtle than microcephaly. “It’s just essential to be able to come up with what these answers are, to be able to help women and families know.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an… Continue reading

The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been discussed for over a decade. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital expansion gets about $6 million in 2021 provincial budget

According to the government’s three-year plan, the project will get $59 million by 2024.

The Town of Sylvan Lake has launched a new contest to attract a new business. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell is hoping to pick up where he left off last season as the 2020-21 WHL season kicks off Friday in Red Deer against the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels set to host Tigers in WHL season opener

24-game WHL Alberta only season kicks off night Friday at the Centrium

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano tries to help goaltender David Rittich stop a shot from Ottawa Senators right wing Drake Batherson during first-period NHL action Thursday, February 25, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

Team Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson reacts to her shot against Team Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

FILE - New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York, in this Sunday, March 1, 2020, file photo. The Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-3. Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out the upcoming NHL season because of a heart condition, announcing the news a little more than two months after joining the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist posted a written statement and a videotaped one on social media Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, saying it was a "pretty tough and emotional day." The 38-year-old from Sweden was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a $1.5 million, one-year deal with Washington in October. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa holds up water collected from Neskantaga First Nation, where residents were evacuated over tainted water in October, during a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Most Read