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Concern expands over Zika birth defects

Besides microcephaly, virus could cause long-term health problems

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4:39pm, September 28, 2016
People in a hospital

ON EDGE  A pregnant woman and her family wait at a health clinic in Loiza, Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory has been hit hard by Zika virus, and nearly 2,000 pregnant women have been confirmed as infected.

After a year caring for patients at the heart of Brazil’s Zika epidemic, pediatric neurologist Vanessa van der Linden has seen some of the worst cases.

She was one of the first researchers to link Zika virus to microcephaly, a now well-known birth defect marked by a small, misshapen head and, sometimes, a forehead that slopes backward. Babies with the defect can have other symptoms, too: Van der Linden has seen 24-hour crying bouts, spasms, extreme irritability and difficulty swallowing.

But microcephaly is just the tip of the Zika iceberg, she said September 22 at a workshop hosted by the National Institutes of Health in North Bethesda, Md. That’s something public health officials have been warning about for months. Now, scientists have begun to describe a head-to-toe assortment of health problems linked to Zika virus infection in utero; they’re calling it congenital Zika syndrome.

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