Microcephaly

Microcephaly facts*

*Microcephaly facts medical author:

  • Microcephaly is a condition where the head (circumference) is smaller than normal.
  • Microcephaly may be caused by genetic abnormalities or by drugs, alcohol, certain viruses, and toxins that are exposed to the fetus during pregnancy and damage the developing brain tissue. Unfortunately, a 2015-2016 outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil has been associated with a large number of infants born with microcephaly. Epidemiological and some viral isolations suggest that pregnant women who get Zika virus have a high chance of fetal infection that may lead to microcephaly, although a definitive link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly is not yet proven.
  • Signs and symptoms of microcephaly may include a smaller than normal head circumference that usually remains smaller than normal as the child grows, dwarfism or short stature, delayed motor and speech functions, mental retardation, seizures, facial distortions, hyperactivity, balance and coordination problems, and other brain-related or neurological problems; although some with the disorder may develop normal intelligence.
  • There is no treatment to change the head size; programs are available to help these individuals reach their maximum potential and genetic counseling may help explain the risk for microcephaly in future pregnancies. Women who are interested in becoming pregnant are being advised by the CDC and other agencies to avoid traveling to areas where Zika virus is found to reduce the chance of becoming infected while pregnant.
  • Research on microcephaly is ongoing; for example, researchers found that amino acid therapy may reduce seizure activity in some patients. There is no vaccine available for Zika virus; researchers predict a vaccine will take three to five years to develop.

What is microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a medical condition in which the circumference of the head is smaller than normal because the brain has not developed properly or has stopped growing. Microcephaly can be present at birth or it may develop in the first few years of life.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015

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Zika Virus and Pregnancy

Zika Blamed for Increase in Cases of Microcephaly

Zika virus infections first arose in Brazil in May 2015. Pregnant women, especially those in the first and early second trimester, in areas where the disease is prevalent should try to avoid any mosquito bites. Officials in Brazil are concerned since almost 4,000 babies (very unusually high number as compared to similar time periods in which only about 150 babies were diagnosed with microcephaly) have been born with microcephaly since May 2015. In addition, Dr. R. Coeli, a pediatrician in Brazil, has reported Zika viruses isolated from the amniotic fluid of two women and one infant's brain and heart tissue -- results she concludes that tie the Zika virus to microcephaly development. Officials have taken the unusual step to recommend women avoid pregnancy until the cause of the increase in microcephaly is definitively determined.