Zika Virus May Trigger Epilepsy In Infected Babies, CDC Warns

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Apr 19, 2017 10:40 PM EDT

Researchers from the CDC found that cases of epilepsy in Zika-exposed babies are rising. (Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Zika virus is more commonly associated with birth defects and other health problems of infected newborns. Experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned the public that the mosquito-borne illness may also trigger epilepsy in infants.

According to the study published online on April 17 in JAMA Neurology, three researchers analyzed Zika virus infection at the CDC. The team assessed 48 babies from Brazil who were possibly infected by the virus and found that there is a link between Zika and epilepsy. Among the participants, "50 percent reportedly had clinical seizures," Dr. Daniel Pastula, Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp and Rosemarie Kobau said.

The Zika virus infects humans through mosquito bites, and its effects in pregnant women are the most damaging one. Affected newborns will have extreme neurological birth defects like microcephaly. Many cases of infection reported were from South America, specifically in Brazil.

Aside from the 48 babies, seven out of 13 Zika-exposed babies in Brazil were also diagnosed with epilepsy, the CDC revealed. Brain defects in newborns infected with Zika virus were previously linked to seizures and epilepsy thus today’s finding is not a highly surprise, the team noted.

According to Medical Xpress, past study also suggested that babies exposed to cytomegalovirus had increased risk of epilepsy. The infants displayed types of brain abnormalities that were similar to the effect of Zika virus infection.

All of this points to "the need to examine how and to what extent congenital Zika virus infection and resulting brain abnormalities are associated with seizures and/or epilepsy," the CDC authors wrote. Some unfavorable effect connected with neurological defects of Zika virus infected babies may be reduced when an early diagnosis was made, the researchers added.

The researchers also believe that an increased knowledge is a significant tool in determining cases of epilepsy that is associated with Zika virus infection. "Better recognition, diagnosis, and reporting of seizures and epilepsy in infants and young children will help guide interventions to make sure families receive the right support and treatment," the CDC team said.

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