In a follow-up to a report on the unusual increases of microcephaly in Pernambuco state, Brazil, several additional states are reporting unexpected increase in the number of newborns with microcephaly, skull malformation that can lead to serious consequences in child development, according to local media (computer translated).

Public domain image/Deyvid Aleksandr Raffo Setti
Public domain image/Deyvid Aleksandr Raffo Setti

Besides Pernambuco, a state which concentrates most of the cases, with over 141 notifications, there are records in Rio Grande do Norte (22), Paraiba (9), Sergipe (49) and Piaui (12), according to Health departments. There are also cases under investigation in Ceará, says the Ministry of Health.

In Rio Grande do Norte, Professor of Tropical Medicine Institute of Rio Grande do Norte, Kleber Light said  tests so far in babies and mothers did not identify the occurrence of infections that often lead to this kind of malformation: toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, herpes and syphilis.

“We are evaluating every case. Let’s repeat exams and continue searching for answers,” Light said.

About 80% of mothers reported having presented during the first months of pregnancy with spots, rashes and fever – symptoms associated with Zika disease, a mosquito borne virus seen in numerous states in the country.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 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.

It is most often caused by genetic abnormalities that interfere with the growth of the cerebral cortex during the early months of fetal development.  It is associated with Down’s syndrome, chromosomal syndromes, and neurometabolic syndromes.

Babies may also be born with microcephaly if, during pregnancy, their mother abused drugs or alcohol, became infected with a cytomegalovirus, rubella (German measles), or varicella (chicken pox) virus, was exposed to certain toxic chemicals, or had untreated phenylketonuria (PKU).

Babies born with microcephaly will have a smaller than normal head that will fail to grow as they progress through infancy.  Depending on the severity of the accompanying syndrome, children with microcephaly may have impaired cognitive development, delayed motor functions and speech, facial distortions, dwarfism or short stature, hyperactivity, seizures, difficulties with coordination and balance, and other brain or neurological abnormalities.  Some children with microcephaly will have normal intelligence and a head that will grow bigger, but they will track below the normal growth curves for head circumference.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

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