Zika linked to baby joint de­for­mi­ties

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Zika in­fec­tion dur­ing preg­nancy may cause limb joint de­for­mi­ties in the baby, ex­perts now fear.

The virus, which has been spread­ing across much of the Amer­i­cas and has de­terred some peo­ple from vis­it­ing the Olympic host coun­try, is al­ready known to cause a se­ri­ous baby brain de­fect. Preg­nant women should not travel to ar­eas with Zika, and those liv­ing in Zika zones should avoid the bit­ing mos­qui­toes that carry and spread the dis­ease.

Ex­perts now agree that Zika is ca­pa­ble of caus­ing last­ing brain dam­age to ba­bies in the womb. The virus can cross the pla­centa from the mother to her un­born child.

And there is grow­ing ev­i­dence that it can trig­ger a rare, weak­en­ing con­di­tion of the nerves, called Guil­lian-Barre syn­drome, in adults.

Dr Vanessa van der Lin­den and her team in Brazil say they are now seeing limb joint prob­lems in new­born ba­bies that might be caused by Zika too.

The seven ba­bies with sus­pected Zika in­fec­tion that they stud­ied in hos­pi­tal had been born with hip, knee, an­kle, el­bow, wrist and/or fin­ger joint prob­lems that fit with a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis called arthro­gry­po­sis. De­for­mi­ties of arthro­gry­po­sis, or crooked joints, are caused by faulty mus­cles - some too tight or con­tracted and some too flac­cid - that have pulled and held the baby's grow­ing body in un­nat­u­ral po­si­tions.

Dr Lin­den's team sus­pect the Zika virus at­tacks brain nerve cen­tres sup­ply­ing the mus­cles around the joints, rather than the joints them­selves. Scans of the ba­bies' brains ap­pear to sup­port this idea.

All of the seven ba­bies they ex­am­ined tested neg­a­tive for other con­gen­i­tal in­fec­tions, such as rubella and HIV, that might have been a pos­si­ble cause of their de­for­mi­ties. Most had mi­cro­cephaly as well as the limb de­for­mi­ties.

Dr Lin­den says that, since writ­ing up her find­ings, she has seen 14 more ba­bies with sim­i­lar prob­lems and is run­ning more tests.

Prof Jimmy Whit­worth, from the Lon­don School of Hy­giene and Trop­i­cal Medicine, said that while not con­crete proof, the ev­i­dence that Zika might be to blame was "pretty com­pelling".

"Mi­cro­cephaly is the most ob­vi­ous sign of con­gen­i­tal in­fec­tion with Zika, but it's be­com­ing clear that's just part of the whole spec­trum of dam­age that can be caused by the virus," Prof Whit­worth said.

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