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Brain scans and ultrasounds chart Zika’s effect on babies’ brains

A study in Radiology found damage to the cortex, calcficiation, and brain stem damage among 45 Zika-infected babies in Brazil.


A collection of brain scans and ultrasounds published in Radiology last week offer a grim close-up of how Zika can derail babies’ brain development. The 45 babies, all Brazilian, were born to mothers who contracted Zika while pregnant. All but three of the babies were born with microcephaly, but the scans and ultrasounds also uncovered additional issues with brain development.

In its reporting on the study, the New York Times notes that the study suggests that Zika-infected babies who escape microcephaly could still face developmental problems: “Most of the babies in the study had [calcification] in the cortex, which plays a crucial role in learning, memory and coordination, and also continues to develop at least through infancy, suggesting that Zika-infected babies who seemed to emerge unscathed might be vulnerable to difficulties as they grow.”

Deborah Levine, MD, one of the study’s authors, told NPR that these are the worst brain infections doctors will ever see. “Most doctors will have never seen brains like this before,” she says. She notes that while the Radiology study documents severe Zika outcomes, it’s not yet known how milder scenarios might look.

To learn more, read the full study in Radiology.

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