New findings indicate that Zika-affected children and caregivers face lifetime of developmental challenges and additional research and interventions needed
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new research study published in JAMA Network Open shows that children with congenital Zika syndrome (CZS) demonstrated profound developmental delays at age 2.5 years across all domains of functioning. The five-year longitudinal study by RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, assessing the developmental, behavioral, and medical needs of children with CZS in Brazil showed that the severity of microcephaly at birth was the only significant factor associated with the severity of delays.
The study assessed more than 120 children with CZS on cognitive, expressive and receptive language and fine and gross motor skills. At age 2.5 years almost all children in the sample demonstrated profound delays across all areas of functioning resembling traits of a 2- to 4-month-old baby.
However, most children demonstrated a relative strength in receptive-language skills demonstrating that they can take in and respond to the environment, react to sounds and voices, differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar voices, and respond to their names. They also interacted vocally with their environment, making sounds to express moods and engage in social interactions.
“The research findings reinforce public health concerns during the Zika outbreaks in 2015 and 2016 regarding the severity of disability that children with CZS and their caregivers will be experiencing in the years to come. However, results related to the children’s variability of developmental delays and their strength to receive and understand communication are opportunities for areas of continued research and intervention to support current — and future — CZS-impacted families and provide greater understanding of the developmental challenges ahead,” said Anne Wheeler, PhD, public health analyst at RTI and lead author of the study.
The 2015 Zika outbreak in northeastern Brazil left thousands of children with significant brain injury. Although the outbreak is no longer considered a pandemic, 447 cases of Zika in pregnant women were reported in 2019, suggesting that Zika continues to pose a threat.