[Editor’s note: This post contains graphic imagery.]
After years of floating around the world, wreaking havoc, the Zika virus has finally arrived on American shores.
There have been numerous cases in Florida that weren’t travel related, meaning that people became infected by local mosquitoes, and not from visiting abroad.
So, now that the virus is here, Americans are more keen than ever to understand it.
Zika, which is transmitted via mosquitos or through sexual contact, is not a huge deal for most people who contract it.
Often, they won’t notice any symptoms, though a low grade fever is common, and the virus is usually flushed from the system in a week or so.
However, for pregnant woman, it’s an entirely different, and horrific, ballgame.
Once the Zika virus gets inside of a pregnant woman, it infects the fetus.
That’s when the terrifying problems begin.
The virus wreaks havoc on the baby’s brain, causing the skull to collapse in on itself.
These babies are born with abnormal folds around their skull, and often with severe disabilities.
Zika also causes a condition called microcephaly, in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than usual. This can lead to developmental problems, too.
The ventricles of the brain also usually become enlarged, further complicating matters.
This condition is known as ventriculomegaly and is found to infect most babies suffering from Zika.
The virus has also been linked to attacks on neural progenitor cells, which form stem cells in the brain.
Researchers in Brazil have studied how the virus propagates inside of an infant and made some shocking conclusions, which they published in a paper by the Radiological Society of North America.
In all but one of the patients who were studied, the virus made its way to the brain.
That means that birth defects could end up being more common than originally thought.
Researchers also found that birth defects weren’t limited to the brain.
Some babies ended up with deformed limbs and other ailments.
Nearly all babies studied also showed some symptoms of ventriculomegaly.
However, the way the ailment presented in them differed in size and scope.
Certain infants were born with rashes, a less severe side effect, though researchers were quick to note that developmental disabilities could show up later.
They also noted that Zika seems to do the most harm in the first trimester of pregnancy, something long thought to be true by scientists.
Doctor Deborah Levine of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center spoke to Daily Mail about the study and what it means for prospective mothers:
“From an imaging standpoint, the abnormalities in the brain are very severe when compared to other congenital infections.”
There is currently no cure or vaccine for the Zika virus.
Authorities in infected areas recommend that pregnant women stay indoors as much as possible, in order to avoid mosquitoes.