Scary News: More Birth Defects Linked To Zika

Plus, why the virus may last longer in pregnant women. 

Zika Additional Birth Defects Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock

As promised, Fit Pregnancy is bringing you all the latest updates on the Zika virus and how it affects pregnant women and their babies. We wish we could say that the virus isn't as scary as we thought...but unfortunately, the opposite is true: More details about Zika have emerged and they're not good.

According to Scientific American, microcephaly—a disease that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development—is not the only birth defect that can manifest when a mom-to-be has Zika. Researchers believe Zika could lead to serious joint problems, seizures, vision abnormalities, trouble feeding and persistent crying in infants who are exposed to the virus in utero. This research suggests that even if a baby is born without microcephaly, these other health problems can develop weeks or even months after birth.  

Brazilian researchers studied the virus and its effects by following 83 infants born since August 2015. Only 10 of the 83 subjects had a confirmed link to the Zika virus, as testing for Zika was not yet in place last summer. With that being said, about 70 percent of the babies were born to mothers reporting rashes (a symptom of Zika) during pregnancy.

According to Scientific American, "The Brazilian team found that about 10 percent of the 83 babies had knee or elbow joint limitations so severe that the infants cannot fully extend their arms or legs. Another 43 percent of the babies had less-pronounced joint problems that impeded finger or toe motion, or the babies had other limb abnormalities like clubfeet. And half of the babies had seizures and abnormal eye exams."

There's more bad Zika-related news: The Washington Post reports that research from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Duke University suggests that Zika may live longer in pregnant women than in the rest of the population. Researchers studied the virus's effects on monkeys, finding that Zika could persist for up to 70 days in pregnant subjects, compared to just 10 days in those who aren't pregnant. Researchers also believe a mother-child "loop" could be a possibility—in this scenario, the fetus becomes infected, then passes the virus back to the mother via bloodstream, causing the virus to linger.

There is one bright spot in the new findings, though: According to study author David O'Connor, PhD, a University of Wisconsin pathology professor, once the virus is cleared from a person's blood, he or she is protected against further infection. "If you're not pregnant and not at risk of becoming pregnant, even if you happen to get a Zika infection, you don't have to worry about getting it again for a really long time," he said.

For answers to more of your Zika questions, check out Parents magazine's interview with Dr. Siobhan Dolan, a medical adviser to the March of Dimes and an OB/GYN at Albert Einstein College of Medicine: